Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Custard Corner welcomes the summer crowd

The warmer weather means the time has come for ice cream. Amber Rivera of Custard Corner & Grill scoops up one of the first cones for a customer on a Sunday afternoon in May. The custard stand, owned by husband and wife Mike and Rene Wolasz for over 30 years has been a favorite of many on the Lower West Side. Both are longtime West Side residents. “We have regulars every week. It’s a tradition on the West Side coming here,” Mike said. The custard stand, at Porter Avenue and 7th Street,  is open from April to September. The establishment is known for being crowded on sunny days. “Sunny is money,” Mike said. Along with homemade custards and Perry’s ice cream, customers can get their hamburger and hotdog fix. The custard stand, close to D’Youville College, offers discounts to all college students with IDs. By Christopher Baggs and Neseemah Coleman

Lil’ Libraries coming to a corner near you

Two West Side locations have been chosen for Little Free Library boxes, a project of the Buffalo Architecture Foundation. You can expect to see one outside of the Grant Street Neighborhood Center, 271 Grant St. and the other outside West Side Community Services, 161 Vermont St. Matthew Etu of the foundation discusses the purpose of this free-book reading project. By Zachary Huk and Terrance Young

Urban Roots offers Asian, African plants

Urban Roots Garden Center, located at the corner of Rhode Island and Brayton streets, will provide specialized Asian and African heirloom vegetables, free from genetic modification, to cater specifically to its surrounding community. Providing immigrants and refugees, who make up much of the neighborhoods’ population, with foods and spices they would have only had access to in their native countries. Urban Roots also offers a variety of free workshops for all levels of experience in horticulture. These workshops are hosted in conjunction with Grassroots Gardens Buffalo, the organization that facilitates community gardening, said Urban Roots General Manager Patti Jablonski-Dopkin. Urban Roots is a co-op gardening center, established over 10 years ago by a small group of friends looking to improve their community. By Marcus Darby and Makeda Singletary

Boys & Men of Color reaches W.S. youth

Boys & Men of Color offers an opportunity to teenagers and others an opportunity to be mentored and supported. Created in April 2013, the organization work with Say Yes Buffalo across Buffalo but has a specific mission on the West Side to work with  young Latino and refugee men. Boys & Men of Color’s purpose is to educate, guide and provide a safe haven for young men of color who aren’t receiving it anywhere else. It is a goal to make sure the young men go as far as college and then eventually become mentors in the program themselves. The group meets every Saturday at t Lafayette High School with students from multiple schools. By Tiffany Channer and Kai Lewis

Friday, May 18, 2018

FHA buyers losing out to cash on West Side

By Tara Hark and Max Wagner
Bengal News West Reporters
A new family searches Buffalo for a perfect home to start their lives in, finding one sitting on the corner of Grant Street and Lafayette Avenue. They go to the bank and to their excitement, they’re approved for a Federal Housing Administration loan and are right on their way to a brand-new house and life on the West Side.
But sitting on the lawn is a big red sold sign, signaling that the house was purchased before that family even got the chance to step foot on the sidewalk. The buyer gave a cash offer, trumping the FHA buyer and leaving them once again searching for their home. 
Realtor Naomi Lasco
This situation has been problematic for FHA buyers all over the West Side.
“Cash will just come in, put a lower offer in, maybe asking price, take it as is, and call it a day,” said Naomi Lasco, a West Side real estate agent for Keller Williams Realty and West Side resident. “In a situation where there are several offers on a house; FHA offers are always at the bottom. Cash most always wins, because it’s quick, up front, and involves much less work for the seller. There’s no appraisal, no inspection, just some paperwork.”
Lasco, on the impact of cash real-estate deals:
This problem is rampant on the West Side for an FHA buyer because the homes are generally older and in need of renovations. Sellers are choosing cash buyers because they don’t want to pay for all the repairs required, real estate agents say.
“The reason why FHA or conventional loans are not as desirable to sellers is because they have a reputation for nitpicking houses and requiring them to do certain repairs in order for the buyer to get approved for the loan to buy the property,” said Lee Tringali, Metro Real Estate agent and investor on the West Side.
Besides FHA buyers being shut out of the market, cash buyers can be problematic for renters on the West Side.
Lasco explains a history of cash buyers neglecting their obligations to the tenants of their properties and squeezing as much value out of the home without putting in work.
“A lot of the time cash buyers are not occupiers, they are investors. So, then we run into sometimes having people who do not maintain the property, and just keep it as is or it deteriorates,” said Lasco.
The issue of neglectful landlords in Buffalo was so expansive that the city implemented the Rental Registration Program in 2005 to specifically identify problem properties, absentee landlords, and the quality of life for Buffalo tenants.
“We have many, many out of town landlords, and it is a problem. Some are even out of the country,” said Sam Fanara, director of rental registration for the City of Buffalo.
Lasco mentioned her own neighbors on Congress Street, who are Somalian, Burmese, and from Sudan, who all rent from an absentee landlord. The tenants were bringing out cupboards filled with water due to poor plumbing and roofing issues.
“Renters need to know their rights, and be able to voice them, which is difficult when there is a language barrier,” said Lasco.
Both City Hall and realtors explained that although the issue exists, it has improved in recent years.
The West Side property value has increased exponentially in the past few years, reducing the negligence of out of town owners, Tringali said
“A lot of the buyers are people who want to live there, and they take care of their property as such. People in New York, the younger generation love the West Side, and are willing to pay for it,”  Tringali said.


Baseball, softball leagues need coaches

The West Side Boys Baseball and Girls Ponytail Softball leagues are looking for coaches and umpires for the start of their season.
The first games are on June 2.
League organizer Tovie Asarese says the experience of coaching is worthwhile.
“It’s a great experience for everyone involved,” Asarese says. “It’s been hard to get coaches. Many don’t want to come forward and spend time with the kids during the summer.”
Along with baseball and softball, the West Side leagues also offer T-ball for 6- and 7-year olds. Ages for all leagues range from six to 18 and are played at LaSalle Park. League play extends until 31
Asarese can be reached at 885-7692 regarding interest in coaching or umpiring for the upcoming season.
Asarese, 89, has been involved with West Side youth sports since 1953, when he first coached boys baseball. He is a member of the Great Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
“I’ve always enjoyed amateur sports more than professional sports. It’s a truer sport. Just going out there and playing,” Asarese says. “I probably should have retired a long time ago, but I enjoy working with the kids in this area.” By Chris Baggs and Neseemah Coleman

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Biking making a path in Buffalo’s culture

By Marcus Darby
Bengal News West Reporter

As you drive down Elmwood Avenue, you might notice the presence of a huge cyclist culture. Blue bike racks decorate each block and even the ones outside of coffee shops have sometimes three or four bikes locked in them. As you turn down Lafayette Avenue and reach the intersection with Grant Street, you’ll also see a row of red bikes lined up for rent.
All over the area you’ll notice sharrows and green bike lanes that make a way for cyclists to safely travel. This is when you realize it’s just as popular to ride a bike as it is to drive a car.
         The cycling culture is becoming a huge trend in cities all over America and leaders are making it easier and safer for those who choose it as their primary means of transportation.
Buffalo is becoming the latest city to make the adjustments, in an effort to attract the younger demographic to the city.
Cycling has become a huge trend in the area over the past decade. The city has made the roads and neighborhoods more bicycle friendly.
Not only do these changes promote the culture of cycling but it makes the city more eco-friendly too.

Kowalik, on the growing popularity of biking in the city:

“The city has definitely done a lot to make the roads safer for cyclists,” said Jenn Kowalik, manager at Campus Wheelworks. “We are all really excited about the plans the city has come out with.”
Bike lanes and sharrows have been installed throughout the city to promote awareness to motor vehicle drivers that the road is to be shared with cyclists.
Sharrows are simply decals on the road as opposed to bike lanes, which give cyclists their own lane of traffic which they can safely travel on.
In the summer and fall seasons there are numerous events that cater to the cycling community such as the Slow Roll and smaller community events that involve physical fitness and more.
Bikes for rent on Grant Street and Lafayette Avenue
Rick Cycle Shop, 55 Allen St., has been involved in the growth of community events.
“We help plan and hold numerous events that include cycling such as women only events as well as numerous charity events,” said Tom Azzarella, manager.
Events like these attract people to the cycling culture. In fact, that is one of the goals for another local bike shop.
Campus Wheelworks located at 744 Elmwood Ave., is also an important catalyst in the cyclists’ culture on the West Side.
“We definitely want to promote the cycling culture. The community events we hold help people realize that there are groups in the area they can join in on,” Kowalik said.
Campus Wheelworks is looking to expand the cycling trend further into the West Side with plans to build a new facility on Niagara Street to create a safer environment for cyclists in the lower West Side.
Bike lanes and sharrows on Niagara Street
“The new building is an addition to the Wheelworks family. There is a lot of misinformation regarding that, but the Elmwood location will remain open,” she said.
Niagara Street is a wider road, which makes adding protected bike lanes easier for the city without squeezing traffic as opposed to Elmwood Avenue, where the space is limited and adding actual bike lanes may be impossible without making significant changes to the area.
The cyclists culture has become an integral part of the West Side neighborhoods. No matter what culture, religion, or ethnicity you identify with cycling has brought them all together.