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Kevin Hayes: Director, Buffalo ReUse

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Kevin Hayes: Director, Buffalo ReUse

On the strength of his previous experience in contracting and community activism, Hayes was appointed the interim executive director of the nonprofit organization Buffalo ReUse ( in October 2010. The group’s goal, to rehab and restore the city’s toughest blighted neighborhoods, is supported financially by the ReSource (298 Northampton St.), which resells valuable commodities that have been stripped from vacant homes.

1. How has the landscape of the East Side (or other neighborhoods) changed since you’ve started working with ReUse?

Demolition continues at a steady pace, so there are more gaps on many streets. In our neighborhood, between Jefferson and Main Street a few blocks east of Artspace/Deltasonic, there are some signs of housing progress in the sense of rehabs and new settlers. Our own organization, in collaboration with Grassroots Gardens and others, has created around a dozen community garden spaces along Northampton, Southampton, Masten and Michigan. In other parts of the East Side, citizens, block clubs and community groups continue to steadily make a difference in their neighborhoods. I think the pace is picking up and we’re all able to build on our past efforts and the efforts of others.

2. What will the neighborhoods plagued by mass demolitions look like in the future? Are we resigned to acres of rolling prairie across the East Side?

I believe any open acreage in Buffalo will at some point become more valuable. This is mostly because as the cost of oil and transportation rises, and it could rise a great deal and more quickly than we might think (remember the oil shock of the 70’s?), people will want or need to regain the advantages of density and closeness to commercial centers that Buffalo was built on.

So, I think we’ll have a mix of open space - tiny farms, more parks, some forests, large gardens - and more strategically-sited infill housing, hopefully designed and built for density, environmental soundness and all the aspects of livability we see in other cities and parts of Buffalo. You can tell I’m an optimist!

3. When you get to a demo site what are the most valuable or desirable commodities for resale?

Many quite ordinary houses have brass or cast iron door hardware, covered by decades of paint. These can be quite valuable. Otherwise, we like to salvage interior doors (our biggest seller at the ReSource), door and window casing, baseboards, radiators, plumbing fixtures. To some extent, the older it is, the higher its value. We also grab every bit of metal we can, as we make steady money at the local scrap yards.

4. How do you determine an item’s resale value and how competitive are your prices with private industry?

For most items in our building material store, prices average 50% of an equivalent new item. This is an average, meaning there’s a range, and standard for the reuse industry. So we research at Home Depot, Lowes and Lenco and set a price around half what they might charge. If we’ve got a lot of something, or sell a big bunch to one person, the price usually goes down. Antique items are priced to some extent at “what the market will bear”. We don’t sell antique stuff at wholesale prices, but I think you’ll find our prices for the old things are less than what you’ll pay at a Hertel Avenue antique store.

5. How is a non-profit business model different from that of an under performing business that requires subsidizing? Don’t all businesses provide some form of benefit to the community (in the form of jobs, wages, goods)?

Good questions, and ones we think about quite a lot. Our plans from the beginning and our day to day decisions are based on earning our keep by our own efforts. Our total earned income, from the store and demolitions, is greater than what we’ve received from private foundations and government. We see no long term success for Buffalo ReUse if our core operations need to be subsidized.

Early on we received tremendous, timely help from the Oishei Foundation and some smaller funders. These grants helped us build capacity and we grew faster than similar organizations. The bulk of our income will always come from our own enterprise, but grant funding will pay a crucial role. We like to work with local funders to strategically apply donated money to increase our capacity, establish new profitable businesses and new jobs, and collaborate effectively with other local non-profits.

Most businesses do indeed provide real benefits to the community. Some are more conscious of that impact than others.

Bonus: How cost effective is it to salvage or rehab an old building site as opposed to starting a new construction?

It depends on how you approach the job. If you can put in a lot of sweat equity and volunteer effort, like Habitat for Humanity, PUSH and homesteaders, you can reduce costs. There are also many ways to reduce material costs, such as reusing materials and using innovative design approaches.

People are rehabbing all over the world and doing it competitively. Old structures have a lot of embedded energy that’s wasted if the structure is “thrown away” - this is rarely counted when comparing rehab to new-build. There’s also the preservation of the historical neighborhood fabric, which has real value and is hard to duplicate once it’s lost. I think there will always be a mix of old and new construction in Buffalo. I’m hoping the new construction will add real value to the City by reusing materials and respecting the existing built environment.

Bonus: What steps do your crews take to assure a demolition is done in an environmentally sensitive fashion?

Our primary environmental impact is to divert more than half of the structure to recycling or reuse - saving material that would otherwise be “thrown away” in the landfill. Beyond that, any asbestos in the building is abated before we start dismantling and we minimize the spread of dust and other obnoxious or unhealthy materials. When we’re done, as code requires, the lot is returned to the same condition it was in before the structure was built - no debris or large rocks, the foundation properly filled and graded.

Bonus: What are your long term goals and how do you see Buffalo ReUse’s role in the community evolving over time?

We’re currently busy doing short and long term planning at Buffalo ReUse. We wish to continue to build a social enterprise that’s self-supporting, financially sound and stable. We want to be creative and collaborative in finding solutions to Buffalo’s problems. Perhaps most important, we want to create meaningful numbers of sustainable jobs for Buffalo residents, and above all make a true material difference in peoples’ lives, particularly those who call the East Side their home.

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