Water Equity Clearinghouse

PUSH Buffalo

Buffalo, NY

People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo) is a local membership-based 501 (c) 3 community organization with a mission to mobilize residents to create strong neighborhoods with quality, affordable housing, expand local hiring opportunities, and advance economic, racial and environmental justice in Buffalo. PUSH Buffalo was established to: Create strong neighborhoods with quality affordable housing; Decrease the rate of housing abandonment by reclaiming empty houses from neglectful public and private owners and redeveloping them for occupancy by low-income residents; and Develop neighborhood leaders capable of gaining community control over the development process and planning for the future of the neighborhood. PUSH values include: Member Involvement – We base our decisions on member participation and consideration of alternatives; Inclusiveness – We encourage a diversity of opinions; Ownership – We take advantage of opportunities to create and control community resources; Results Oriented – Our plan is an accomplishment – we have outlined a series of measurable goals and outcomes that will ultimately lead to results; Relevant – We respond to changing political and social climates by evaluating trends that are prevalent to the goals and objectives of our organization; Justice - We are committed to promoting social justice that gives real power to real people.

PUSH has modeled a just transition in the Green Development Zone (GDZ), a place-based initiative focused in a 25-block district on Buffalo’s West Side. Renewable energy projects, green housing rehabilitation, urban farming and green infrastructure installations have transformed 120 parcels within the zone. Projects in the Zone have generated more than 100 living wage jobs accessible to neighborhood residents in a range of sectors, reduced carbon emissions by approximately 155 Metric Tons of CO2 annually, and created over 90 units of affordable, sustainable housing. The Zone has gained worldwide attention as a model of building community wealth and power while reducing the carbon footprint through intensive interventions in energy efficiency and renewables. By building a culture of change and engaging hundreds of low-income leaders in strategic campaigns focused on winning concrete victories, PUSH and its allies have won more than $100 million in new energy efficiency, housing and job training investments for communities across the state. The best plans and the ones with the highest likelihood of success build on the assets currently available and address the daily needs of those currently living in the community. PUSH’s success can be attributed to the multi-prong approach to our community development plans rooted in an iterative, community-engaged planning process.

Efforts to Advance Water Equity

In 2013, PUSH Buffalo launched PUSH Blue Eco Landscaping, its stormwater management and green infrastructure initiative. Today, PUSH Blue Eco Landscaping is on the leading edge of the community-based water management movement and has completed more than thirty stormwater interventions that include rain gardens, permeable pavers, living roofs, bioswales, underground and aboveground cisterns, and several large-scale community gardens in the Green Development Zone.

The Buffalo Sewer Authority (BSA) is under a consent decree with the EPA to reduce the impact of its Combined Sewer system.  Due to PUSH’s extensive experience in completing water management projects on vacant urban land, the BSA included PUSH Buffalo in its control plan with the EPA and contracted PUSH Blue Eco Landscaping to install 230 green infrastructure bioretention systems throughout the City of Buffalo. As a result, PUSH has scaled up its green infrastructure division, providing expanded opportunities for both training and permanent placement of successful trainees. In all, PUSH Blue Eco Landscaping has installed 214 stormwater retention installations in partnership with the Buffalo Sewer Authority, and has trained a dozen Buffalo residents in green infrastructure. In addition to the City of Buffalo, PUSH Blue Eco Landscaping’s clients include state agencies, public schools and private companies.  PUSH Blue Eco Landscaping has performed more than $2,700,000 in contracts and employs six workers, who are paid a living wage of at least $15/hr or more for their work.

PUSH Blue Eco Landscaping’s stormwater management interventions have had a significant impact on Buffalo’s Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) problems. They have also strengthened residents’ abilities to enjoy vacant land repurposed for recreational use and water management purposes.  Community-engaged design practices—including educational signage at project sites, workshops around CSOs and the impacts of green infrastructure, tours of green infrastructure sites, the distribution of 200 rain barrels to residents and training workers for employment in the GI sector—have connected hundreds of low-income people to issues of water quality, community resilience and related climate change impacts.

This work has enabled PUSH Blue Eco Landscaping to develop itself as a social enterprise. In addition to performing private landscaping and green infrastructure work, PUSH Blue grows most of the native plants for its green infrastructure installations in a greenhouse on Buffalo’s West Side. The greenhouse uses a state-of-the-art design that requires little upkeep but produces great yields. The plants grown in the greenhouse are in high demand because they are native to the WNY region and are well adapted to the variety of weather conditions we see during Buffalo’s four seasons. PUSH Blue also runs a vermiculture compost operation that produces the compost material needed for the growing season and green infrastructure installations. Excess plants and compost are sold to private buyers, producing additional income for the PUSH Blue social enterprise.

PUSH has gained national recognition as a leader in the community-based green infrastructure movement and regularly provides technical assistance to other community-based organizations as well as has developed partnerships with a wide range of interested parties, including the Cleveland Botanical Garden, the Buffalo Sewer Authority, the City of Gary, IN and the City of Rochester, NY.