BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Because of last week’s storm, News 4 had to divert its attention away from our series last week on what’s changed since the Tops mass shooting?

Last week, marked six months since the tragedy and many people have been frustrated over the slow pace of change on Buffalo’s East Side.

Through our series, we’ve examined new efforts to address deep inequities on the East Side from food insecurity to helping people with emergency home repairs. Now, we’re telling you about a state program that’s literally keeping people in their homes.

“I could’ve lost my home this year, had it not been for this program,” said Helen Boyd of Buffalo.

It’s called the Buffalo East Homeowner Assistance Fund.

After the Tops mass shooting, the state pumped $20 million into the program, as a way to help East Side residents who have been emotionally impacted by the shooting and have fallen behind on bills that can be foreclosed on, such as water and sewer bills, user fees and taxes.

“The tragedy and then the pandemic just caused me to fall off,” Boyd said. She indicates that she fell behind on her taxes, water, and sewer bills. She then applied for help and had all her bills paid for.

“Excellent, it was like a no hassle deal,” she said.

Applications are being accepted through the Western New York Law Center. More than 1,000 applications have been received so far, many of them have been approved.

“How it works is we process the applications, we see how much people owe, then we send the information to the state where they cut checks that go directly to the entities like the City of Buffalo and the water boards,” said Kate Lockhart, vacant and abandoned property program director of the Western New York Law Center.

The Western New York Law Center says there is a cap of $50,000 per homeowner and that it’s taking a couple weeks for people to be approved — folks like Boyd, who’s had a huge weight taken off her shoulders this holiday season.

“Step out of here and I’m a free woman, and have a Happy Thanksgiving, yes I am very happy,” Boyd said.

So far, nearly $2 million has been spent in this $20 million program, so there is a lot of assistance out there for East Side residents. The Western New York Law Center is helping people with applications on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s at the Frank E. Merriweather Library in Buffalo.

Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.