Bangladeshis are transforming the poorest and crime stricken areas of Buffalo, one block at a time

Categories: Life Stories

Bangladeshi families are changing the face of Buffalo's most dangerous neighborhoods and bringing new life to them. Crime has dropped dramatically or disappeared all together in these newly inhabited areas. Families are using their life savings to buy and renovate run-down homes, making the area a safe place to raise their children.

Much of Broadway-Fillmore might seem like the poster child for blighted Rust Belt cities: criminals roaming the streets, boarded-up houses with plywood windows and empty storefronts separated by vacant lots. Urban decay replays block after block.

But take a closer look and walk around Woltz, Loepere and Gibson streets, and you will find rehabbed houses, replete with fresh coats of paint, new siding and gable roofs. Many empty parcels are fenced-in fruit and vegetable gardens. Prostitutes and drug dealers no longer walk these streets. Instead, seniors relax on their porches, watching as kids whiz by on bikes and families stroll to nearby groceries, a hardware store and accountant’s office. 

Something dramatic has quietly happened in Broadway-Fillmore, largely unnoticed, and it’s spreading to Genesee Moselle, Fillmore-Leroy, Kensington, and other neglected neighborhoods.

New families are plunking down their life savings to buy and renovate hundreds of dilapidated properties, restoring them to the city’s tax rolls.

It’s a transformation spearheaded by Buffalo’s newest immigrant group, the Bangladeshis.

These families are coming here in droves, from New York City, where many first arrived, perhaps a generation ago, from their South Asian homeland.

The migration to Buffalo began as a trickle a decade ago, but in the past three years or so, it’s become a torrent.

There are no reliable numbers tracking how many Bangladeshis have settled in Buffalo. The Census Bureau’s latest estimate is 316, but the actual count is significantly higher. Liberty Yellow Cab alone has more than 367 Bangladeshi drivers. One community leader estimates that “at least 1,000 to 1,500” Bangladeshi families are living in the city.

Whatever the precise number, the new arrivals have made a dramatic impact on several East Side neighborhoods. Property values are rising. The number of owner-occupied homes is up. Crime is down significantly. Retail stores are opening. The inner-city real estate market is thriving. Demolitions are waning.

“For the first time in my career, I’m seeing more owner-occupied purchases versus investment properties,” said Matt Lepovich, a licensed real estate salesperson with Century 21 Gold Standard. “These are multigenerational families who want to live in these homes, who want to live on the East Side, so properties are maintained. It’s a beautiful thing.”

The Bangladeshis are lured here by the cheap prices for houses.

“What might be viewed as junk property might be a palace to them because they’re coming from New York City, where rent is sky-high and home ownership is so expensive that they can see the potential in a house, and they’re willing to do the work,” said Josephine Modeste-Nieves, of Modeste Real Estate, which caters to refugee and immigrant families in Buffalo.

Even vacant lots appeal to Bangladeshis. They come from an agrarian culture and covet sprawling yards for their outsized gardens.

No government agency selected Buffalo as their new home. The Bangladeshis made the choice. That means that, unlike refugees, they get no government assistance to resettle here. They pool their own resources. Friends and relatives chip in, and sometimes properties in New York are sold while others reach back to their native Bangladesh for the money for their new life in Buffalo.

“They’re coming from a very different experience,” Modeste-Nieves said, “so they have a very different perspective.”

So different that some of Buffalo’s most distressed neighborhoods have become the Bangladeshis’ Promised Land.

“There’s a better life and home ownership in Buffalo for the Bengali people,” said Meraz Dawan, who left Brooklyn in 2008 and now owns 10 renovated fixer-uppers on the East Side. “It’s a life many couldn’t have in New York City.”

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