BUFFALO, N.Y. — When you think of the Rust Belt,
glossy neighborhoods with rocketing rents may not be the first
images to jump to mind.
But gentrification — and concerns about rising prices
— can be problems even in places like Buffalo and Detroit,
says University at Buffalo researcher Robert Silverman.
Silverman, an associate professor of urban and regional
planning, is leading a project to make recommendations about where
the government should place affordable housing in 10 of the
fastest-shrinking U.S. cities. Eight are in the Great Lakes region,
and two in the South.
- Birmingham, Ala.
- New Orleans, La.
- Detroit, Mich.
- Buffalo, N.Y.
- Cincinnati, Ohio
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Dayton, Ohio
- Toledo, Ohio
- Youngstown, Ohio
- Pittsburgh, Pa.
“In all of these metropolitan areas, there are still
neighborhoods where growth is happening,” Silverman says.
“Buffalo is a good example,” he says. “People
have been leaving, but there is revitalization downtown and along
the Main Street corridor. We need to protect affordable housing in
It’s easy to ignore the issue of subsidized housing in
distressed cities because real estate as a whole is relatively
cheap and abundant. But low-cost properties are often far from good
schools, transit options, cultural institutions and social services
— a situation that discourages social mobility.
Silverman’s study, which began this winter, is funded by a
$125,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD)’s Sustainable Communities Research Grant
Program. The project aims to identify what he calls
“neighborhoods of opportunity” within each of the 10
In the past, there were few criteria guiding where affordable
housing should go, beyond the fact that new units could not be
sited in communities with a certain level of poverty, Silverman
He advocates a more thoughtful approach: One that connects
people with resources they need to achieve success.
It makes sense to place low-income families in vibrant,
accessible neighborhoods because this is where people are more
likely to succeed, says Silverman, who has been researching issues
surrounding fair and affordable housing for years. Holding down a
job, sending your kids to school and staying healthy is easier when
getting to work or the doctor isn’t a time-consuming
His team will establish specific benchmarks for what constitutes
a neighborhood of opportunity, and identify specific communities in
the 10 study areas that fit these criteria.
Silverman and his colleagues have expertise in shrinking cities,
with past findings published in the Journal of Urban Affairs and
presented at conferences in the U.S. and abroad. The 10 cities they
chose for the current study were the ones that saw the fastest
population declines in America between 2000 and 2010, according to
To make their recommendations on where to locate affordable
housing, the team will use publicly accessible databases and
information. This means planners everywhere will be able to employ
similar methods to explore affordable housing solutions in their
Silverman’s grant was one of four awarded through
HUD’s Sustainable Communities Research Grant Program in the
2013 fiscal year. His colleagues on the project, which is expected
to last two years, are Li Yin, UB associate professor of urban and
regional planning, and Kelly Patterson, UB assistant professor of