Rehabbed Homes in Masten Neighborhood Come with a High Price Tag

Back in April I posted a story on my blog about four properties in the Masten Neighborhood that were slated for rehabilitation rather than demolition. Belmont Shelter is rehabilitating a total of ten properties to the tune of $350,000 each. The funding for the rehabilitations comes from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). Burke Homes, the same builder of Colvin Estates, is the contractor for the project. I was only aware of four properties when the project was originally announced and grabbed photos of each for some before and after shots.


I had some high hopes for the rehabilitation considering the high price tag and the rich architectural details each home had. Unfortunately, when going out for my “after” photos I was extremely disappointed.


The homes had been stripped of their original architectural integrity inside and outside. 11 Holland Place is one of the best examples; the exterior featured clapboard in great shape, detailed wood porch columns, a simple dentil cornice above three windows in the uppermost gable, and a beautifully hand-carved motif in the porch pediment.


Work during the rehabilitation scrapped every last one of those details in favor of vinyl siding, the removal of the three windows in the gable, and sending the porch columns and carved pediment to the trash. The fireplace and pocket doors with ornate brass hardware have also been removed in favor of a more “vanilla box” interior.


The same dull gray vinyl (likely bought in bulk), removal of architectural details, and installation of vinyl windows repeats at the other homes. At 144 Glenwood the Palladian window was removed in favor of a single vinyl window, the bay window at the second story was removed for a flat wall, and the full height pilasters at the corners have been removed or covered.


Before the work started the homes were neglected, but retained some rich architectural details, making it easy to identify them as unique and varied structures. After the rehabilitation they are thankfully once again livable, but almost indistinguishable from each other.


It’s an interesting contrast to the fantastic job Matt Newtonhas done at the Lyth Cottage on Harwood Place, especially when looking at the cost. To date, Matt has spent about $30,000 on his home and put in a lot of sweat equity. For that price, he has saved a beautiful home that was one its way to the landfill just like these other homes.


While I understand not everyone has the time or is up to the task to restore a home, a part of the problem is because the city does a poor job of marketing available homes for sale. Each of these four homes was previously owned by the city and available for purchase, but only if you knew where to look. There was no sign on the lawn, nothing posted on the door, and navigating the city website for information was a headache. For those who want to learn more about purchasing a city-owned property, check out this great Buffalo blog, Unbreak my House as a duo chronicle their story from start to finish and how to get things done.


Longtime local blogger, David Torke (fixBuffalo) chimed in saying, “the concentrati
on of development is really exceptional and a good choice for the neighborhood. Renovating them is very important for the city at this time. The question that remains is why the cost for rehab is so high, it remains unclear why the rehabilitation of each property was specified at such a high cost.”

One reason that the cost is so high is because the jobs must be bid as prevailing wage jobs. A good chunk of the budget is spent on labor rather than materials. It is also likely most of those people doing the labor do not live in the adjacent neighborhood. While it’s great to have some historic homes back online and not in the landfill, it would be dangerous to repeat these types of rehabs too many times.


Those who appreciate architecture love Buffalo for the varied styles and details that can be seen in our buildings on any given street. Imagine if a whole street of homes were rehabilitated in such a manner, the streetscape would become dull and uninteresting. I’m thankful these homes will once again welcome families and be put on the tax rolls, but the end product leaves a lot to be desired.


To see more before and after photos, click the link to my Flickr page.

CR-3889
11 Holland Place: Before and After
CR-8344
CR-4319
144 Glenwood Avenue: Before and After
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CR-3890
291 Northampton Street: Before and After
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About the author  ⁄ david steele

61 comments
lawrencecrushing
lawrencecrushing

Those are dramatic improvements over what disasters they used to be. It's a shame they got rid of the roof deck at 144 Glendwood. According to this College Station roofer, keeping that deck would have increased the property value more than the cost to redo it.

laugh445
laugh445

Soil removal per regulations around the property from potential contamination I was told can be $20,000 and other requirements are that specific labor groups be used which may not be skilled in rehabilitation.  The question is, also, who does the plan for the rehabilitation and who has to approve it?  

bung
bung

I got Obama phone from Ronald Reagan.

biniszkiewicz
biniszkiewicz

sure hope that's right ($187.5k/ea. as opposed to $350k/ea). It's still not cheap, but a little closer to what that money could buy in a newly constructed suburban home.

Diamond Concrete
Diamond Concrete

I think the numbers are off on this. I remember bidding these properties at the start of the year through a general contractor and of the 4 of them bid on didnt even total 900k. The gerenal that bid them was off on his bid from the winning bid by over 150k. So working backwards with the math 750k/4= 187,500 each. And yes i dont agree with how they turned out.

KJB
KJB

Ouch. Those before and afters are brutal.

Dan
Dan

> I can build custom homes down here in NC for around $90-95 per square foot

In Buffalo and much of Upstate New York, building costs are much higher: about $125 to $175 per square foot. Its one reason why you're seeing small patio homes in Amherst selling in the $200K-$300K range.

Why? Much higher wages in construction, adjustments for the climate (thicker insulation, deeper trenching for dry and wet utilities), large lot zoning that increases land costs, mandatory environmental review, stormwater management laws that are among the country's strictest, and with most builders in the area being local mom & pop businesses, no economies of scale. It's a lot cheaper for Pulte, Lennar or KB to build 100 houses than Vinnie Bagadonutz to build 5, Tony Calzone to build 5, Angelo Stugotz to build 5, and so on. It's also the reason why most new unsubsidized residential construction in the area is at the high end of the market.

Even then, in WNY that $150/ft2 still gets you a vinyl box with some token brick facing on the front facade and a basic thin profile 20 year roof. Elsewhere, for $100-$125/ft2/ft2, you might have significant or full coverage in fiber cement siding, or brick or stone facing, with high-profile architectural roofing.

$175/ft2 for new build construction still doesn't come to match the mess in Masten.

Dante DAnthony
Dante DAnthony

350k? Wow...you could have went down to the Arts Council, selected 4 artists, handed them the 350k and the home and each one of them would have renovated the house, yard, the attic, the basement, the whole kit and kaboodle with custom handcrafting, gardens, stained-glass windows, sculptures, solar arrays, windmills, vegetable gardens, butterfly gardens, bird-feeders,wind chimes, a bed and breakfast business, a renovated classic car in the garage, a weekly poetry and coffee event-DANG; I bet the contractors than pinched the architectural finishes and returned these...sterile eye sore probably weren't even City contractors but peeled in from the burbs, right? 350k? You could have gone to UB School of Architecture, created a grant program and had students learn historic restoration and done the work themselves-important for project management skills. Facepalm.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/MmKedt8pnYyKx__hc0VBwhGLOhq
https://me.yahoo.com/a/MmKedt8pnYyKx__hc0VBwhGLOhq

That's right. I rehab old houses as well. This is a total ripoff. I guarantee there are a lot of 'administrative' fees making up that $350k per house. And what they did to those houses is a crime. Disgusting.

Up and coming
Up and coming

"KEEP YOUR DAMN GOVERNMENT HANDS OFF MY MEDICARE!!!"

OU812
OU812

Someone is lining their pockets on this project...what a shame...

paulsobo
paulsobo

I'm glad you mentioned it. Obamacare in the long run will be a disaster just like urban development and municipal housing

pampiniform
pampiniform

This is an incredible waste of tax payer dollars if I've ever seen it. For an amazingly large amount of money, old houses are being rehabilitated in a way that hardly seems to respect the the integrity of the original architecture. What's the point of renovating something at that expense if this is what the results are? Somehow all that money is going to renovate houses into something that is the worst of both worlds. It isn't a good reuse of an old house, and at the same time manages to be worse than what gets built in Clarence and Orchard Park for that price.

I guess you could argue this is what happens when one tries to create a demand in an area where there isn't any, but it is hard to overlook how little sense this program seems to make. It seems designed to enrich the builders more than it does to create affordable housing. If we're looking for someway to try to revitalize neighborhoods in Buffalo, we need to look elsewhere. This isn't a good value for the money being spent

socialjustice
socialjustice

I can't speak to the bureaucracy that these kinds of re-hab projects require (although I disagree with the quasi-corporate takeover of housing rehabilitation projects by organizations pretending to act on behalf of low-income famlies and I fully support an action plan that clearly and easily identifies vacant properties available for sale by the city or banks; properties that might be made available to low-income and new-immigrant families as easily as the working or lower middle class people, including myself, who have been for twenty years or more, readily buying houses in my neighborhood and creating communities of homeowners who feel pride in their buildings and in the bonds developed by living closely with neighbors for several years). However, I have to ask, with $350,000 per project, WHY ARE THEY GETTING RID OF SO MANY WINDOWS?????? The vinyl siding is atrocious, of course, but houses that are so obviously lacking windows look like disposible, cheap, unpleasant housing designed without respect for the low-income people who are meant to live there. The poor don't deserve natural light? This boggles the mind and makes the houses look substandard and unbelievably unattractive.

whatever
whatever

Scrapping the approach sounds good, but wouldn't it have to be scrapped federally from HUD in D.C. if federal $ is to be used by "more local groups who can do this more efficiently"?

Things like Davis-Bacon wage rules and other stuff in JMc44's second paragraph seem far outside of what could be changed locally.

Maybe if O ever comes here again for Duffs and another citizen Q&A, somebody could ask him if the big set of federal rules governing these kinds of federal programs can be scrapped and start over to make this more efficient.

No doubt all the special interests who lobbied the feds for those rules would be understanding and say sure, go ahead.

Cam33r4
Cam33r4

Quick someone call Al Vaughters!

benfranklin
benfranklin

Agreed. You can picture a father sixty years ago leaving one of these homes for a shift at Bethlehem Steel, before the kids were awake. They went to church as a family on Sunday. Today those kids are getting ready to retire in North Carolina, the home and the pew are empty.

Travelrrr
Travelrrr

That might be the case, but the Church forced people to leave due to archaic belief systems and backwards practices.

Tim
Tim

There's not much the Catholic Church can do if no one is going to mass. People abandoned Catholic Churches, not the other way around.

ladyinwhite
ladyinwhite

I can't believe this has not made an investigator news case yet. Highway robbery and they are getting away with it.

benfranklin
benfranklin

Interesting that any expert in their field is aware that the government get's less for their money than any other buyer, but when it comes to healthcare, it's going to be just great.

buffalofalling
buffalofalling

Buf2020... save the pro-Davis Bacon prevailing wage support. The wage paid is about double what the private sector pays for the same work. It's well known that govt jobs on residential and heavy highway are cash cows. IF these are prevailing wage jobs, a disproportionate amount of money went toward wages.

EAHS 1972
EAHS 1972

If the alternative was demolition, I guess this is an upgrade. But just barely.

Government would have been better suited to give a local construction/contracting company the $1.2 million grant and let them rehab about 10 or 12 houses instead of four.

STEEL
STEEL

Actually the Catholic response has been to flee the neighborhood and leave the houses and churches behind to rot and the people to fend for themselves . As for your generalization about black churches huh?

medea
medea

Hey folks, lets get Tamar and Aaron with PUSH together with Belmont and see some creative accounting in action. PUSH's first project wrecked many original, architecturally significant details and took three renovations, over the course of five years to complete, which BTW, the interior is depressingly awful (as any tenant will attest). I think the model is full of shit. Granted the Belmont houses are absolutely horrific and deplorable but hey, that's what we expect from Belmont. I'd like a public accountability summit with all the self-inflated non-profits that help the poor by hiring outside contractors, while showing pictures of black men doing the work. Bogus, at least Belmont isn't pretending to be GREEN, LOCAL or SUSTAINABLE.

buffloonitick
buffloonitick

looking at those before and after pictures made me puke a little bit in my mouth.

paulsobo
paulsobo

The smart way to do the vinyl siding would have been over the original clapboard.

Yes, for the $350,000 they could have more than restored and added architectural detail but thats why government programs and all this minority churchs are little more than arms of government programs.

Its really the stupidity and greed of the african american churches. Why? An old school catholic/protestant church program in the community would have treated the rehab of these houses as training in arts, crafts and construction. Shingle, clapboard, architectural detailing, etc...would have all created trained workers to enter the construction and remodeling field.

Instead they got vinyl sided houses and low skilled workers and pocketed the government money. Corruption at its finest!

Cam33r4
Cam33r4

The original house in the top photo looks beautiful. I love the porch... such a shame that these now look absolutely hideous. Each of these houses definitely had more potential and I don't feel that they all needed to be completely re-skinned with such a hideous gray vinyl. Yuck.

Buffaboy
Buffaboy

"Shit boxes" and Byron Brown in one post do not mix with me, I'm sorry. Especially this neighborhood. And I fully agree the architecture could've been preserved and the cost brought down but something people would want-key word is want, to live in.

Allentwnguy
Allentwnguy

They just rang the dinner bell for the feeding trough!!! Unfortunately that neighborhood will never be "Allentown". When you loose so much of the character of a house and don't put anything back you get a box with windows.

H0w much does vinyl siding cost? I replaced a portion of the siding on my house this year, clear cedar clapboard was just under $1.50 a foot. While it is not as cheap as vinyl there is just no comparing the looks and it WILL last another 130 years!

I replaced a hideous canopy roof over my back door. I took existing design elements from the house and designed a new roof using 8/4 stock wood (2") and 2 3/8" stock. It has the look of old build but it is new.

Cost wise I put less than $10,000 into the projects. If I had $350,000 this 3,500 sqft house would be the show place of the neighborhood. No matter how you try to justify it putting that much into one of these houses and having them look like this?!?!?!?!? People walking away with big smiles on their faces to the bank! Seriously I think I'll write to my representatives this is BS.

bernicebuffalove
bernicebuffalove

Sad to see so much character lost on each of these rehabs.

Why do we try to imitate the vinyl Victorians in Lancaster? If people want the suburban style, they will move there... and pay a lot more money that what this area will pay.

Maintaining and supporting Buffalo's neighborhoods & housing options is very important because of their historic character & charm, the dense, "pre car" urban fabric still (mostly) intact and very unique (and very affordable!) housing options. We need to build on our assets, not destroy them to be like every other place built after 1975.

jim1234664
jim1234664

they really need to change the rules for lead paint in subsidized residential rehabs from stripping/removal to encapsulation...

BFLOwatch
BFLOwatch

Hilarious! As if the EV folks would ever allow low income folks in "their" neighborhood.

brownteeth
brownteeth

For that kind of money per home I know for a fact you could hire the best craftsmen in Buffalo to restore these homes utilizing all the original elements all while upgrading the mechanics to new efficient infrastructure. Or they could have just bought a dozen homes on Ashland or Norwood and sold them for $50k to low income folks and called it a day.

LastManIn
LastManIn

Add in NYS asbestos costs, lead paint and the cost to do everything up to code and you start to see why demo is unfortunately the path most taken.

I would never have thought $350k for each. Man, I need a union job.

Jesse
Jesse

Ichwhay olunteervay roupgay do you work with?

16thStreet
16thStreet

WTF!? These houses look worse now than before!

Chris
Chris

What a shame. A crime has been committed here.

Buff2020
Buff2020

Davis Bacon Residential rates are affordable and are likely not the reason for the cost.

aristocrat
aristocrat

I can build custom homes down here in NC for around $90-95 per square foot. I can build those crap vinyl box homes at 75 per sq foot. With that 3.5 mil they should be able to build 30 vinyl boxes and although they still won't sell for more than it costs to build there would be that money more homes.

LastManIn
LastManIn

Prevailing wage. You have to pay the guy shoveling garbage on the site $55/hour, too. And no one else can do his job.

Lego1981
Lego1981

These houses lost all of it's original charactor. Just slap on some plastic, new windows and call it a day, huh?

jpp
jpp

Reading this makes me want to vomit. This needs to be front-page news (oh - we have only one newspaper). I really hope that there are more people who care about this travesty than those who do not. Maybe the balance between those who would find such antics offensive, and those who see it as business as usual, has shifted to the point where it has become acceptable to the populace. That is the true crime.

In any case, mark your calendar for about five years from now: after these houses sell for $50,000 and are occupied and "maintained" for a period of time, expect to see at least half of them on the in rem foreclosure auction, selling for $3500 each.

Travelrrr
Travelrrr

Your list has just proven why this approach should be scrapped, then, and we should empower more local groups who can do this more efficiently.

Believe me, there is money behind this deal--otherwise, Burke would not be involved.

What this is is a crappy developer taking advantage of free money.

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