Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a $10 million three-year initiative to create homeownership opportunities, make needed home repairs to prevent foreclosure, and fund a targeted zombie property prevention strategy for Buffalo's East Side and the Town of Cheektowaga. This first phase of funding for the three-pronged Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative invests more than $4 million to begin work on nearly 250 homes this year. More information is available here .
Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Well it is pleasure to be back. And for me the sun is shining, a couple of light raindrops. But, it's always a pleasure to be back and so exciting to be here on the East Side today with so many friends and so many colleagues who have done such great work together. First, your mayor, Byron Brown, let's give him a big round of applause for the great job he's doing. Our great Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, let's give her a round of applause. County Executive, Mark Poloncarz, our partner. We have our legislators here and it doesn't happen unless the legislators don't bring home the bacon and this is the bacon squad you have here. Senator Tim Kennedy, let's give him a round of applause. The indefatigable Crystal Peoples-Stokes. Monica Wallace and Sean Ryan, let's give them a round of applause. And Howard "the Z man" Zemsky, let's give him a round of applause.
I'm going to be brief. I'm going to make a few points because it is raining a little bit and the County Executive leaned over to me and said you know we may have flash flooding in Erie County. I know what that means. That means he's about to say oh there are floods by the way, can the state help us with these floods. I normally would not mind but I'm wearing my good shoes today. And I'm not going to ruin them. Last time he said that to me was when we had seven feet of snow here. I came out, I helped, I couldn't get out of bed for a week. So, I'm not ruining these shoes.
Howard's exactly right. For many years, the state was just not present in Western New York and Buffalo. There was a sense in Buffalo that you were closer to other states than you were to Albany. And the state government, frankly, and I have said this before and I'm not proud of it, but the state government was too focused on downstate New York. It was all about downstate. Why? Well its human nature. Legislature is predominately elected from downstate. Legislators most interested in what they can do for their district and most of them were from downstate New York. It was wrong. It was unfortunate. It was miss-guided because upstate New York was the area that needed the help.
Downstate was doing fine, economically. Upstate was losing business and losing people. And that went on for 20-30 years. We saw the wrong and we did a 180 degree turn on that. And we have been more present in Buffalo and Western New York and I have been more present probably than any governor since Grover Cleveland, who lived here. And this has been a team effort and I partnered with the mayor and the country executive and we're doing it together with the legislative delegation. But are we present.
It's not a coincidence that the lieutenant governor is from Buffalo. It's not a coincidence that Howard Zemsky is from Buffalo. A lot of reasons why you would pick Howard Zemsky, a lot of obvious reasons. Good looking, fancy dresser, great sense of humor, great sense of business, and head of economic development from Buffalo. Howard's also right, we get a kick out of it now, we travel a lot to the other cities, especially upstate, and there's a real Buffalo jealousy fact, you know. Not that jealousy is a good thing, but if anyone said to me, a few years ago, you know, the other cities are going to be jealous of how well Buffalo is doing and they're going to want to be doing as well. But there is no doubt that we are succeeding. And there is no doubt that we have made tremendous progress in a very short period of time.
You see it everywhere. You see it in the numbers. Unemployment was 8.3 percent. Today it's 4.9 percent. We've created 30,000 new jobs. 2016 was the best year for hiring in close to 20 years. Major companies moving into Western New York, General Motors, Sumitomo Tires, all coming here. Canalside, Mr. Joy is here, ten times the number of visitors now come to Canalside. I was going to pass by today, they have the Italian-fest. I was thinking about pizza sausage all morning, but I think I'm going to pass on that. Entrepreneur Magazine named Buffalo the number two place for start-up companies. Entrepreneur magazine! And there is a different feel. There is a different attitude. There is a different persona now to Buffalo and Western New York. We have a bounce in our step. We have mojo that we didn't have before. I always thought of the Peace Bridge situation as a metaphor for so many things. We said well were not just going to take 20 years of indecision anymore. And we're not going to get pushed around by anyone on the Peace Bridge situation and we stood up for ourselves. I was accused of being combative but we stood up for ourselves. We have beautiful new Gateway Plaza at the Peace Bridge now. It's working and it's working for Western New York. And I was combative? You're darn right. And I will fight for the people of Buffalo and Western New York any day of the week.
We're now debating on the Riverbend site. What's better for us? The Tesla Company, Panasonic Company? Do we want to make solar panels or batteries or electric cars, what's best? It's a beautiful debate to have because for 40 years we were putting flowers at the Riverbend site as the gravesite of Republic Steel. Now we're talking about cutting edge industries and what's the best cutting edge industry for western New York. So we've come a long, long way and the best sign, the best sign, because it's the inverse of what was the saddest sign, young people are now coming home and young people are coming to Buffalo.
But, today I pose another question to you because this is your community and you make the decisions. But there's a question you have to deal with, we're succeeding, a lot of positive growth, a lot of investment, a lot of good news. The question is what do you consider success? What do you consider as the ultimate goal of all these efforts? And what does Buffalo as a community really want to achieve? Because I can go through all those numbers of success, but today we're on the east side of Buffalo and there are different numbers on the east side. You're talking about twice the unemployment rate at about 16%, you're talking about a deep population rate twice the rate of the rest of the city, you're talking about a poverty rate of close to 40 percent and that is worth thinking about and in the midst of all the success. Are we really a success when you have part of the city, part of the family of Buffalo who still isn't sharing in that success? And I would ask you to think about the concept that the greatest success is a success that is shared with the most. And we're not truly a success until we have shared that success with the entire community. Now for the east side, we know there are tough challenges. We know there are real problems, but we also know how to deal with it. We've learned these lessons, we know how to do comprehensive community development. We can do it. We need the political will, we need the stamina, we need the resources, but we can do it. We know people need job training, that's what we we're doing with the Northland Job T raining Center. You have to get people the skills in this economy so they can compete, which means first they need the education to compete. And we have to get our public schools where they need to be and provide the services through the schools that the community needs. Then we need the job training and then we need the placement to the jobs that are actually going to offer a wage that people can afford to live and a job that actually has advancement. We have that Buffalo Niagara Medical campus doing great, great work. Let's train people for those jobs that we are creating that are going to provide real careers.
And it all starts for me with housing. I've worked in housing all my life, I started in my 20s building housing for homeless people. I was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton. It's about housing, why? Berceuse housing is the heart of the community. It is the building block. Housing is the heart of the family. You want me to get my life together, you need a place to get your life together. You need stability. You literally need a roof over your head. That is from a human level, that is the first step to getting a life together and that's where we want to start today. It's about housing and we have to stop the downward cycle that we are now in. We are still paying the price for the mortgage crisis from 2007/2008. You still see mortgages that shouldn't have been made in the first place being foreclosed on. A house becomes foreclosed, the house sits empty, as soon as it's empty the house is vandalized. Now you have an abandoned vandalized home on the block and you feel the rest of the block getting sucked into that void. And then people who are trying to keep the house right, trying to pay the mortgage, trying to pay the expenses, their house is devalued by the house that was abandoned and the entire block starts to close in on itself.
We have to change that cycle. Stop the foreclosure in the first place, come in, do what you need to do to fix the mortgage. Rehab that abandoned house and sell it and get a family in there that's going to keep it right and keep it productive. That's what the Mayor was staring with his land bank proposal that we passed into law. And now what he needs is funding to make that happen, to pay for the mortgages, to do the rehab and to do the closings and that's what the 10 million dollars that were pledging today is all about. So it is a step in the right direction and let's think about as part of Buffalo Billion too. Not just creating great jobs at the high end, not just bringing in the big companies, not just rebuilding downtown, but pledging to ourselves as members of the family of Buffalo that we're not going to stop building and we're not going to consider ourselves a success and were not going to consider the Buffalo Billion a success until that bright light of opportunity shines on every face in Buffalo. Thank you and God bless you.