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Warrant Squad Rounding up Housing Code Violators

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County officials say some housing violators in Buffalo are scurrying to make repairs and pay fines now that the county's warrant squad is back on the beat. Last week, housing court judge Henry Nowak and Sheriff Timothy Howard reported to the legislature on the surprising success of the small squad.

The warrant squad was just one of the sacrifices of the 2004 budget crisis. But it could not have come at a worse time. Buffalo already faced an epidemic of vacant houses and blight. With less enforcement, the backlog of warrants for property violations mounted to more than 2,000.

But legislators restored $50,000 in the 2008 budget to bring the squad back. Officials sid it is already having a big impact. For every one arrest, they say four people are turning themselves in. Legilsature Majority Leader Maria Whyte said the threat of arrest had to be real.

The fines are as much as $500 a day per violation. Whyte said that will help offset the cost of the squad and, perhaps, eventually make it self-sustaining.

She said it also will allow the squad to go after some of the notorious house flippers and other bigger, out of town violators. But she said the squad is making an impact beyond housing infractions by improving quality of life issues that can help prevent bigger crimes.

Whyte said part of the success is because the squad is still employing the efforts of volunteers from the community to bolster the effectiveness of housing court.

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