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Vacant housing: plenty of room for big vision

   The numbers are huge, even daunting.

   One out of every 12 or 13 properties in Buffalo -- a total of 7,000 to 8,000 -- will soon be owned by City Hall.

   Thirty-five percent of the city's streets have at least one city-owned vacant lot or house.

   Buffalo's vacant housing rate is the highest in New York and trails only Detroit and New Orleans among the 100 largest cities in the nation.

   How do you deal with a problem so immense?

   Experts say one of the answers is as big and bold as the problem itself -- a national demonstration project dedicated to vacant and abandoned housing right here in Buffalo.

   Joe Schilling, an urban planning professor at Virginia Tech and one of the founders of the National Vacant Properties Campaign, recently published an academic paper promoting Buffalo as home to America's first "living laboratory."

   The idea is to create a national showcase for how to solve the vacant housing crisis and, along the way, attract a lot of talent, expertise and money to Buffalo.

   Is it a good idea worth pursuing or, as city officials suggest, a well-intentioned plan destined for a dust-covered shelf?

-- Phil Fairbanks



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