Hurricane refugees liked what they found in Buffalo – so they're staying

Angie Pena, left, and her sister Hilda Ramos make dinner at Ramos’ Parkside home. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Like many Puerto Ricans who fled to Buffalo in the wake of last year’s devastating Hurricane Maria, Angie Peña planned to stay no longer than a few months. “Ni aunque mi pagaran” – “not even if they paid me” – she vowed to her sister and husband.

Her sister, Hilda Ramos, picked her up at the airport with little more than her two kids and their roller luggage. They settled into the spare room in Hilda's Parkside apartment. 

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“Business is definitely better this year,” said owner Enrique Sexton. “You can tell there are all these new people here. I see them on the street, I see them in the business.”

Buffalo needs those new people, local economists and advocates agree. Between 2010 and 2017, the Buffalo Niagara region grew by a paltry 1,700 people, points out UB Regional Institute analyst Brian Conley. Even a portion of the 4,000 to 5,000 arrivals some community leaders have optimistically estimated would be a “big deal for Buffalo,” Conley said.

There is no reliable data on the exact number of arrivals yet.

“The effect of adding more people to a local economy is generally a net positive,” said Abigail Cooke, a UB professor who studies the economic impact of migration. “All these people need to rent apartments, buy groceries, pay taxes – and those are positive economic outcomes for local tax bases and businesses.”

While Cooke studies economics, however, she warns against thinking about the Puerto Rican exodus in economic terms. Yes, the arrivals could prove a major boon to Buffalo. But starting life over in a new place forebodes profound personal challenges – challenges that may send some Puerto Ricans home.

 

Published November 24, 2018

The Buffalo News

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