A. and I have been trying to buy an old house in Buffalo to fix up and live in for over a year. Our first try was a rambling Victorian at 247 Rhode Island St, Buffalo’s West Side, last June. It needed work; few of the windows had survived the neighborhood youth, the roof was ominously under a tarp and the interior finishes on the walls and floors were all very “well-loved”. Particularly by the squatter who occasionally made the house his home, leaving a trail of half empty 40 oz bottles, empty bags of Doritos and slashed-up love seats. I gather he hoped to own a pool someday, as he was piling up discarded pool liners in the front living room.
But I digress. We saw the potential of the house and liked that we had friends living and fixing up homes just around the corner. For six months we tried to buy the place. We contacted the owner of the home, found out about his foreclosure situation, contacted the loan servicer (“bank” is a deceptively simple word), contacted the law firm handling the foreclosure, contacted city hall to delay the planned demolition of the home, contacted our lawyer, the home owner’s lawyer, dealt with the foibles of all of the above and, one fine day, got as far as a title search on the deed to the property. Turns out the homeowner forgot to mention a few grand in back taxes to the state and a $60k lien above the foreclosure on the property as a result of his other financial woes. The sale was torpedoed.
After the emotional exhaustion of that process, we figured we should take a step back and reassess. We had not expected it to be easy, but half a year of countless, fruitless phone calls certainly deepened my understanding of Buffalo’s vacant home crisis. This beast has claws. There are tens of thousands of vacant properties in and around Buffalo. Together with the other Rust Belt cities, it represents a national problem. And we had just stepped in it.
And yet, stubborn runs in both our families. While checking up on the blog fixBuffalo, which is devoted to revealing Buffalo’s vacancy crisis through photography, A. and I found a list of homes up for demolition, along with a map and thumbnails of the houses. Among them was the green monster you see at the top of the page. It looked rough, but it also looked plumb and square, its bones not yet broken. It is close to parks, close to friends, close to restaurants and culture. I showed it to A. and we both let ourselves love a busted house again.
NOTE: 247 Rhode Island St is still standing and still a potentially awesome house. If you are interested in the place, contact us and we can put you in touch with some people who might be able to help you move it forward.