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New BMHA board has big challenges ahead

Marine Drive Apartments

The long-troubled Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority has a new majority on its board, with four new members appointed by Mayor Byron Brown and immediately confirmed by the Common Council. The question now is: What next? There are a lot of views about what to do with the authority that provides housing to thousands of city residents well down the economic ladder.

Because prior members were removed by Brown, the board membership had dropped to three people - too few to conduct business. The board also has serious financial problems, as federal dollars shrink.

Brown appointed four new members, who were immediately confirmed, and named two financial advisors to look for a way to bring in more cash with federal aid shrinking. One suggestion has long been to sell off the Marine Drive Apartments, turning the site into luxury housing. However, not everyone agrees that is the right move.
"I am totally opposed to selling Marine Drive to make money," said Council President Darius Pridgen. "There are other ways to make money than to take low-income people who have stayed on the waterfront. And now that Buffalo is changing to even suggest, it makes my blood boil when I hear the conversation because to even suggest to displace people who have lived there before there was a Canalside, before it was popular."

He says that proposal is a money grab.

Fillmore Councilmember David Franczyk, whose district includes four BMHA projects, said the new board can change the operating management.

"That board can also decide whether the executive director continues," Franczyk said. "The mayor said that she will continue, but that's really up to the board because her contract has been up for a couple of years. That's their decision ultimately. Hopefully, they will look at everything very carefully."

Currently leading the BMHA are Executive Director Dawn Sanders Garrett and Assistant Executive Director Modesto Candelario. Former tenant representative on the board, Joe Mascia - who lives in the Marine Drive Apartments - said the new board should first deal with the status of Garrett and Candelario's contracts.

Mascia was removed by the mayor over racially-charged comments. He said the new board has to explain to residents what they want to do and what they are going to do about the thousands of people on the waiting list for apartments- starting with the Perry Project.

"Perry's been decimated, 480 units have disappeared," he said. "So when you look at that and say, 'Well, you know what HUD regulations are one-for-one replacement,' but they haven't replaced any units for five years, probably a little bit more. You look at Woodson Gardens. Nothing happening there yet."

Woodson was sold off, with the buildings removed to make way for Fosdick Field at City Honors High School.

Mascia and others say the first priority for the new board majority to deal with is the status of Executive Director Dawn Sanders Garrett and her long-expired employment contract and Assistant Executive Director Modesto Candelario.

Because so many of the new members are familiar with the BMHA and its operations, the new board is expected to make some quick decisions and look at the problems of the shrinking number of apartments and rising number of city residents who cannot afford rising rents.

The board is expected to see how it might become involved in the push for inclusionary zoning - requiring private developers who get public money to have some housing units set aside for lower-income people.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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