BUFFALO – Donald Kinsman is fixing Buffalo, one building at a time.
He just wishes other landlords would do the same.
"I fix up my apartments, I maintain them, I inspect them," Kinsman said. "Then, there are people who buy a house, and then milk it. It's that simple. Collect as much rent as they can while putting as little as they can back into the property."
Kinsman is one of the good landlords. He's a property owner who's lived in the city for decades, a man in his fifties who's invested in his community and has a stake in its revitalization. He's also a general contractor, and he spent his Tuesday afternoon fixing up a vacant West Side building. Although plagued with graffiti on the outside, the interior breeds optimism: Kinsman has brought dry wall, ladders, paint buckets and all sorts of other materials for this job. Eventually, the owner wants Kinsman to turn this place into a café— a place that "serves a need" in the community, Kinsman says.
"It's all sort of happening," Kinsman says of Buffalo's development. "And now it's really happening."
The story of this West Side building is a perfect backdrop for the message of "Project Slumlord," a group that's been fighting for months to find more people like Kinsman. Project Slumlord met for the fourth time on Tuesday at the Iglesia Misionera Pentecostal, a beautiful old church on Hudson Street on the West Side. Accompanied by dozens of neighborhood groups from across the city of Buffalo, Project Slumlord's mission is to crack down on slumlords who neglect their properties. They've pushed for reforms in violations and fine procedures, which include two major provisions: making fines for non-compliant landlords collectible on the tax bill, as well as toughening fines for "off-premise, not in proximity" landlords.
Thanks to Common Council President Darius Pridgen, they may be closer to their wish after Tuesday. He announced the filing of a resolution at City Hall to support these efforts from Project Slumlord. The resolution would also create a subcommittee to specifically deal with these issues, which Pridgen hopes will get to the heart of the matter. Pridgen said the resolution has "overwhelming support" from his colleagues, who will vote on it at the Jan. 21 council meeting.
"This really ruins a city," Pridgen said. "I think this is an important meeting, I think these are important moves, and I think this resolution will hopefully lead to great legislation."
Patty Macdonald, the coordinator of the Project Slumlord Task Force, opened Tuesday's meeting by telling the crowd to "not focus on what's wrong, but what we can do." She has met with Pridgen personally for more than a year.
Now, she feels as though a resolution could be a step forward.
"We've got the common council on board, and we're very, very excited that we're going to be able to do good things," Macdonald said. "To make sure that only good neighbors live in our neighborhoods."
Which brings us back to Donald Kinsman.
He didn't attend the meeting on Tuesday night, but he shares the same anti-slumlord sentiment.
"They're not good for anyone, except maybe the person making the profit," Kinsman said. "But I think ultimately, it'll come back to haunt them."