Environmental justice forum focused on a healthier Buffalo

Published April 24, 2013

“This forum will showcase the on-the-ground work being done by SUNY Buffalo Law School students and faculty that’s changing lives here in Buffalo while becoming a model for next-generation environmental justice elsewhere in the nation.”
Kim Diana Connolly, Professor and Director of Clinical Legal Education
SUNY Buffalo Law School

Local activists, academics, community organizers and federal experts exchanged ideas toward making Western New York’s homes and communities healthier at a daylong environmental justice forum on April 26.

The gathering, titled "An Environmental Justice Forum for Buffalo Homes and Neighborhoods,” was held at the University at Buffalo’s Clinical and Translational Research Center, 875 Ellicott St.

Matthew Tejada, recently installed as director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Justice, opened the forum. William J. Hochul '94, US attorney for the Western District of New York, discussed the importance of enforcement in addressing healthy homes matters. Other presenters included environmental justice experts from the EPA’s headquarters offices, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The program’s sponsors included SUNY Buffalo Law School and its Healthy Homes Legal Practicum, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo’s Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, Neighborhood Legal Services, UB’s Civic Engagement and Public Policy Research Initiative and the UB Office of Sustainability.

Students participating in the Law School practicum provide legal support to the National Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, which has chosen Buffalo as one of 17 pilot cities for its work in promoting safer housing. Among the work produced by practicum students is 36-page publication called “A Neighborhood’s Continuing Evolution: An Environmental Justice Walking Tour of Buffalo, NY’s West Side.”

Professor Kim Diana Connolly, who directs the Law School’s clinical program and is one of three instructors of the practicum, says of the conference: “This forum will showcase the on-the-ground work being done by SUNY Buffalo Law School students and faculty that’s changing lives here in Buffalo while becoming a model for next-generation environmental justice elsewhere in the nation.”

The conference recognized the presence, especially in the City of Buffalo, of an aging and deteriorating housing stock, environmentally unhealthy conditions in many neighborhoods, as well as high poverty and unemployment rates. Many families live in homes or communities that are unhealthy, unsafe and not energy-efficient.

Though local groups have been working to address these problems, their efforts are incompletely coordinated. The forum sought to begin to develop “a truly sustainable strategy for healthy homes and communities that can become a model for other cities.”