HAMILTON: Niagara’s Chief Industry is Poverty Hidden Far From Tourism

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Niagara Falls


By: Ken Hamilton

On the news that a “for-profit” $15.5-million-dollar expansion of poverty is on tap to have an address that will have her name on the letterhead is likely causing the now-deceased uber-community activist Blonva Bond to start spinning in her grave. The former 9th Street is named for her, a woman who dedicated her life to building a strong African-American community. 

Now, like in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 The Color Purple movie, where, with little notice, the white colonial powers bulldozed straight through well-established African villages with a railroad and causing “the natives” to flee for their safety and lives, it seems to me that it is all tantamount in Niagara Falls NY that there is something far more nefarious than that going on in that part of town that was in fact was designated as the de facto black neighborhood of the city where, on the beds of a former railroad switch yard, a group called DePaul Properties, whose stock in trade are mental health residential units is working in conjunction with Community Missions of Niagara Frontier to develop an 80-unit apartment building in an area that overlooks the Niagara Gorge and the beautiful homes of our Canadian cousins on the other side of the border.

According to The Buffalo News reports, DePaul vice-president Gillian Conde is quoted by reporter Thomas Prohaska as saying that the company has proven a great community builder and stabilizer in communities across New York State; what Prohaska’s report on Conde doesn’t say is which one of those “built-up and stabilized” communities that he lives in. I’d say that there’s where either Conde’s mental health disqualifies him to even speak, or that it qualifies anyone other than who will profit from his venture and yet support it as being in need of such a mental health facility.


But here is an issue as large of a problem as is the expansion of poverty in both the area and in the city of Niagara Falls itself. The property upon which it proposes to sit is the one where the South Gate multi-unit Unity Park project once sat. That property is now owned by the Canadian-based Norstar Group of Companies out of Toronto Ontario. They operate the Norstar Development Company-USA in Buffalo, and that opens a he can of worms when it comes to the shortcomings of the Niagara Falls Housing Authority/Norstar Development Center Court II joint-venture and their project manager Linda Goodman.

It’s difficult for me not to look upon Norstar’s project manager Linda Goodman as anything other than the consummate proverbial poverty pimp and as a master of duplicity; so, I will stop just short of saying so. But after reportedly securing some $20-million in US Housing and Urban Development dollars and up to five-million dollars from the Niagara Falls city coffers for her HOPE-VI, supposed 282 units of new rental and homeownership housing units in what could be classified as a suspiciously intentionally-neglected north end housing project.

One of then-NFHA Executive Director Stephanie Cowart was that the Center Court housing development had become dilapidated and that its concrete foundations were shearing away. Upon asking Cowart what was in the soil at the 134-unit Center Court project that would make foundations spall that wouldn’t make the foundations at Center Court’s twin at Packard Court, and if she knew that the foundations were spalling, then why would she want to build another project upon the site, she could produce no sane answer. She also claimed to a military man – me — that the complex that was built in 1942 as “garden-style projects with sweeping green lawns, trees and angular, courtyard-producing spaces between the buildings were “barracks-style” housing.  Yet when Norstar, NFHA’s partner, build the 9th Street Cornerstone Village it looked far more like a boot camp military base than ever did Center or Packard courts. Such duplicity.

But when it came to the dilapidation of Center Court, maintenance employees there told me that they were directed not to allow the buildings to run down so that they could be justified as dilapidated. When I called HUD in Buffalo to report my findings, its director told me that what was happening was immoral but not illegal.

But the big spoof is that the long vacant, overgrown lot that was once Southgate, but eventually became the Niagara Falls Game Preserve where the deer, coyotes and skunks freely roamed is now being sold by Norstar to DePaul. As a favor to the now-defunct Highland Community Revitalization Committee, Inc., I surveyed the hilltop area for a pilot demonstration development of a homeownership community, which was funded by the city’s community development department. The hopes – as in the HOPE-VI project where Norstar promised to build 42 Phase III homeownership units with 13 of them in that neighborhood – that Norstar would give the land to finish their project. But now it is for sell, and according to City Councilman Ezra Scott, Goodman denied any knowledge of a commitment for homeownership units.

Of further fear on this great checkerboard of the Highland Avenue is that as DePaul hopes to build these 80 apartments and a mental health facility – who’d want to rent such an apartment anyway, with the inevitable boom soon to come to downtown Niagara Falls real estate, it would entice Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier to sell their Buffalo Avenue holdings for millions and then move more of their services up to the once-redlined black neighborhood, turning it into the color purple, where developers, like the colonial powers in the famed movie, could just plow their way through and do any and everything that they want to the people who have long suffered in that island community where Norstar appears to have gotten away with millions and homeownership was further diluted. The good thing for legitimate developers is that the poverty/crime bomb industry will be “HOPE-lessly” hidden far away from its 2nd industry – Niagara Falls tourism.



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