Centering Community Residents To Advance Healthy Housing Policy In Western NY

The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo is working alongside their grassroots partners to apply a racial equity analysis and support community organizing to elevate the voices and experiences of community residents of color and address lead in housing.

The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo brought together their portfolios of work on racial equity and housing to support active collaboration between grassroots organizations, community residents, and policymakers to shape housing policy and address lead exposure. With the second oldest housing stock in the nation, lead exposure is a significant concern for children living in Buffalo—especially for those who live in older rental units. Children of color in Buffalo are disproportionately impacted by unsafe housing conditions and are therefore 12 times more likely than their White peers to have elevated blood lead levels. Following the release of a Lead Action Plan for the city and county, funding from the Convergence Partnership allowed the Community Foundation to operationalize their vision for community engagement and racial equity in addressing the plan’s policy recommendations. The Community Foundation determined that the voices and lived experiences of impacted residents and families of color would be the driving force behind any housing policy changes; and that housing issues would be framed through an explicit racial, economic, and health equity lens in all discussions with policymakers.  

Convergence Partnership support in 2018-2019 allowed the Community Foundation to fund and partner with five community organizations to jointly develop multi-pronged racial equity and community engagement approach that centers the lived experiences and voices of tenants and families. Hundreds of community residents and grassroots leaders were meaningfully engaged throughout this ongoing process. Community members — including labor, faith-based, parents, and community health workers — were recruited to serve on the city and county-wide LeadSafe Taskforce to carry out the recommendations in the Lead Action Plan. Twenty-five emerging community leaders received advocacy training, and 50 community-based organizations were engaged in healthy housing issues. Twelve new community health workers were trained to work with tenants and families on their housing needs. The staff of three city and county agencies — including 60 city housing inspectors and 21 county health department staff — received Racial Equity Impact Analysis training to better understand how to apply a racial equity lens to housing policy implementation and practice. There are several local and statewide policy and systems changes underway as a result including city policy to increase inspections of one-and two-unit rental properties, which currently have no such requirements (in progress); the passage of a county policy to stop painting and construction that creates lead hazards; and a state policy to require health departments to take action to protect children with lower blood lead levels than previously. These investments have created a diverse group of engaged community stakeholders and residents that are committed to lasting housing systems change.