Assistant Professor Kelly Patterson discusses McCarley Gardens residents keeping their community

Published September 30, 2014

Kelly Patterson, PhD

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McCarley Gardens residents 'at ease' for now in Buffalo

The Spectrum story by Amanda Low

Patricia Morrison has been living in McCarley Gardens for the past eight years. She moved to the neighborhood when her autistic son was 5 years old.

Her son, now 13, has memorized the route from where the bus drops him off after school at City Honors School to his front door steps. Because of his autism, Morrison said he has to learn these routes through repetition.

Morrison said McCarley Gardens is all her son and most of the younger residents of the complex know. Before last Thursday, many of the residents thought they were onthe cusp of losing their community.

On Thursday, however, UB officials said the university is no longer planning on purchasing the low-income housing complex. McCarley Gardens residents said they are excited their community will remain intact and within an area of potential economic growth.

“Our fight all along wasn’t to stop UB from buying the property, even though we didn’t want anyone to buy it,” said Lorraine Chambley, the McCarley Gardens tenant association president. “What we wanted was to keep our community. This has been our fight from the beginning.”

The property is located right next to the construction of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The UB Foundation, which assists the university in property purchases, planned to buy the neighborhood from St. John Baptist Church, the owner of McCarley Gardens, for $15 million. The church built the complex in 1978.

UB never revealed what its intentions were for the plot of land, but the sale garnered a lot of controversy.

John Della Contrada, UB spokesperson, said UB decided not to purchase the property “after careful consideration of UB’s long-term plan for a Downtown Campus and the plan’s stated goal that UB’s expansion should be in concert with the needs of the community.”

He said UB’s goal is for the surrounding community to benefit from the expansion. UB will continue to engage with bordering neighborhoods, like McCarley Gardens and the Fruit Belt neighborhood, he added.

UB not buying McCarley Gardens is a “good outcome for everybody involved at this point” due to the complications and disputes involved with the sale, said Robert Silverman, an associate professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

Plans for the 15-acre site were never fully developed, according to Kelly Patterson, an assistant professor in the UB School of Social Work who used to teach in UB’s School of Architecture and Planning. She said the large amount of pushback from the community made it “unpalatable” for the school to continue pursing the sale.

“My colleagues and I did not want to see individuals and families ripped from their neighborhood where they have built friendships and support networks,” she said in an email.

Silverman said St. John Baptist Church had to receive approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to move people from the property into replacement housing. He does not think the church was able to develop a plan that satisfied the relocation of McCarley Gardens.

McCarley Gardens residents were against having the property sold to the university because the neighborhood was in such a “resource-rich area,” according to Silverman. The complex is located next to accessible public transportation as well as health care and social services. 

Like Morrison’s son, many of the children in McCarley Gardens are able to attend nearby schools with high success rates like City Honors and Futures Academy, Silverman said.

When the people of McCarley Gardens heard about potentially having to move out, Morrison said there was a lot of “animosity” between residents and the church. She said younger residents, especially, felt the sale was throwing aside 150 units within the complex. 

Many of the younger residents responded strongly, displeased with the prospect of being forced out of their homes. Morrison said she and other older members of the community would do “damage control” to try to make those upset by the prospect understand the sale was meant to “better the city.”

“When you separate these people, you separate their family,” she said.

Many of the children who live in McCarley Gardens are brought up in an environment that allows them to flourish, unlike other neighborhoods in Buffalo, said Crystal Kay, who has lived in McCarley Gardens for 14 years.

“We’re a community here,” she said. “It’s low-income housing but it’s family based.”

Morrison said the neighborhood is “at ease” for the time being and is looking to put greater care into the community to build more “pride into the children.”

Patterson said she thinks there will be other attempts to purchase McCarley Gardens because of its prime location.

“For now, it is a victory for them,” Patterson said. “But in the future, they will have to be vigilant and ready to fight for their neighborhood.”

She said McCarley Gardens representatives will have to demand to be involved with any other future negotiations surrounding the neighborhood, especially if there is a possibility of it being sold again.

Chambley, currently the sole member of the McCarley Gardens tenant association, wants to reestablish the group, as all of its members have either moved or passed away. She said the reformation of the group would allow the neighborhood to have a stronger voice in situations such as potential sales.

Silverman said he believes there won’t be any efforts to sell the property soon because of the original difficulties of UB’s deal.

He said UB is potentially looking to expand into Pilgrim Village, a 90-unit subsidized housing complex located north of the medical campus’ construction.

Chambley said she is happy the complex is not being sold. She acknowledges, however, there is a chance for another party to buy the property. But she said UB would’ve been the “lesser of the two evils.”

Morrison said she understands why the university wanted to buy the piece of real estate.

“I’m not angry because I understand that things have to go on, things have to grow,” Morrison said. “And sometimes things you don’t want to get rid of, you might have to get rid of to move on, to further everybody.”

But for now, her son won’t have to memorize a new route home from the bus stop.

Jordan Grossman contributed reporting to this story.