Chris’s Corner: Stemming the Tide of Decline

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Chris Voccio is a Niagara Falls City Council member and can be reached at ChrisVoccio@gmail.com.

 

By: Chris Voccio

Niagara Falls City Councilman

As some of you may know, I knocked on a lot of doors during my 2017 election campaign. I listened to a lot of voters and believe I got a good feel for what was on people’s minds.

While I’m not up for re-election until 2021, I’m knocking on doors again this year, and I’m hearing the same things this year that I heard two years ago.

So many of our residents are thinking of moving out of town. Some want to move far away, to places like Florida or South Carolina. Others are considering a closer move, to places like Lewiston or the Town of Niagara.

One major issue relates to blight. Many residents, usually renters, and many property owners, usually from out of town, don’t care about their yards, or their neighborhoods. These people are pushing their good neighbors to want to move away.

While law-abiding, tax-paying citizens flee to other municipalities or states, we’re left with more and more of those that came here or are staying here because of cheap rents and, thanks to New York State, generous social welfare policies.

It’s time we stem the tide of decline and make Niagara Falls a more attractive place to live for the productive, law-abiding working or retired people of all races and colors and creeds. The immigration debate is in the news a lot lately, but when it comes to people moving to our city from other countries, states and municipalities, let’s welcome them with open arms — IF they are coming here to assimilate, to work, pay taxes, abide by our laws, and take care of their yards. We need as many of them as possible.

I’ve read somewhere that 60% of our residents are on public assistance. Whatever the real percentage is, the fact is that the ratio of taxpayers to those who live off taxpayers is dramatically lower than it was in the city’s glory days.

In the halcyon days of Niagara Falls, a huge percentage of our population were working class people, middle class people, people who earned a living, paid their taxes, kept up their properties and cared about and contributed to their community.

To reverse the city’s decline, we should focus on the following:

No new taxes or tax increases. When we increase property taxes, we essentially encourage law-abiding, tax-paying citizens to consider moving out of town, lessening our tax base and increasing our percentage of people on public assistance.

Encourage private development of market-rate housing. If we’re going to attract productive, working people to Niagara Falls, we need more market-rate housing. This is why I’m so encouraged that a private developer plans to build market-rate apartments downtown.

The city should not incentivize low-income housing. If a private operator wants to build low-income housing on their dime, OK. But the city shouldn’t encourage it.

Transfer city-owned properties to private owners. We need to, as rapidly as possible, transfer city-owned properties to private owners, people who will either live in those homes or next door neighbors who want an empty lot to be their side yard. This needs to be done in a thoughtful way, as these are city-owned properties.

Certainly there are other things that can be done to stem the tide of decline of our city. Niagara Falls may never again be what it was a generation or two ago. But it can be dramatically better than it is today.

And of course, we need to continue to care for our less fortunate neighbors while we focus on making the city a more attractive place to live.

 

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