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BMHA residents bring apartment issues - and anger - to Common Council

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Residents of Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority buildings delivered a list of problems deficiencies their respective homes, demanding they be fixed. Two Common Council members met directly with the residents in City Hall and received their input, but not until after a testy exchange derailed a committee hearing in Council Chambers.

From leaks to faulty electrical connections, to moldy walls and pest infestations, residents detailed various problems in their respective complexes. Many live in the LBJ Apartments on Humboldt Parkway.

Their biggest issue is with broken elevators. Lisa Pearson, who told WBFO she has numerous health problems, lives on the eighth floor of the building and struggles to get up and down without working elevators.

"I had to have somebody carry my walker up. When I finally got to the eighth floor, my heart felt like it was coming out of my chest," she said. 

Pearson explained that the building is down to one functioning elevator but even that unit is subject to problems. She fears with the coming holidays and more use by visitors, that elevator will soon break down, too. Other residents fear for their own health without access to functioning elevators, including Minister Ronald Lawson, who was recently released from a hospital stay and, he says, has been ordered by his doctor not to exert himself by climbing stairs. 

"My brother had to literally pick me up and carry me from the first floor to the eighth floor," he said. "Then, I get upstairs and my medication comes. I can't get downstairs! If a fire broke out, we would die."

Natasha McCain lives in the Jasper Parrish Place apartments. She is blind and told WBFO she learned the disabled unit to which she was assigned, after haggling with BMHA officials, was infested with cockroaches and mice.

"I can't put my food down. I'm scared to step on the floor some times at night," she said. "I've got to call my father because he has come to the house and put stuff on the walls, cans on the walls, so the mice can't get in." 

McCain also complained of mold in her bathroom and closets as well as leaks from her ceiling. 

Talk of problems within BMHA housing began on a loud note during a Common Council committee meeting. Community activist Nate Boyd, Lawson and others disrupted the meeting, thinking their chance to speak would be denied. But the meeting during which they had their outbursts was not the 10 a.m. Finance Committee meeting, which included Boyd's concerns scheduled on the agenda. This was a Civil Service meeting which was to be held briefly before the Finance Committee would meet.

Activists and residents then attempted to meet with Mayor Byron Brown but were turned away outside his second floor office. Later, they took up an invitation by Council members Richard Fontana and Rasheed Wyatt to meet privately. They gathered in a Council conference room, where the lawmakers' assistants took down notes. Another result was the scheduling of a meeting Thursday, December 6 at the LBJ Apartments, where residents will have the chance to meet with Fontana and BMHA executive director Gillian Brown.

"This worked out very well in this setting, to be able to sit across the table from residents, get their concerns and have their representation and work with them toward some solutions," Fontana said. "When someone's screaming in the chamber, you lose decorum and you really can't get much done."

He also dismissed accusations by some of the residents of indifference toward their problems. Fontana said residents who bring their issues forward can get their problems solved.

"Residents came to my committee meeting about a month ago. I was at their house the next day. We had results for them the next week. A resident even got a new stove," he said. "There's no indifference. It's just that sometimes people want to phrase things in a certain way or present things in a certain way, and they get a bigger headline. But it's not about headlines. It's about results."


Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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