Removing the Rust: Adaptive Housing and Livelihood Strategies of Refugees in Buffalo, NY

Authors: Seth Cavello*,
Topics: Urban Geography, Immigration/Transnationalism
Keywords: refugees, gentrification, ethnic entrepreneurs, neighborhood change
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Virginia A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Despite the current restrictive national policy on refugees, Buffalo, New York has positioned itself as a safe haven for resettlement not only through the strong political voices coming from city hall, but also through the community-wide support that can be seen throughout the city. Even so, refugees in Buffalo are facing a unique combination of other difficulties that they must overcome by adapting their housing and livelihood strategies. Increased housing costs caused by gentrification in some parts of the city have meant that many refugees are being forced to find cheaper housing options farther away from the neighborhood of initial resettlement. Simultaneously, there appears to be market saturation in small, ethnically-owned industries, such as grocery stores and restaurants, that are limiting the entrepreneurial opportunities for some refugees. This study addresses the following specific research question: how are refugees from Burma navigating these changes, and what are the alternative settlement patterns, livelihood strategies, and community development impacts that result? This research draws on in-depth interviews with key actors and refugees from Burma, as well as census data analysis to develop a better understanding of neighborhood changes and how refugees and service providers are adapting as Buffalo sheds some of its Rust Belt city characteristics. Results indicate that there is uneven access to the resources needed to adapt among sub-groups of the refugee community, and that local service provider and economic development organizations are critical intermediaries in navigating the transition.

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