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BMHA residents hope upcoming meetings lead to better living conditions

Nick Lippa
Resident James McNeil

The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority will hold their board meeting Thursday at noon. They’ve come under scrutiny recently for the poor conditions their buildings are in. The LBJ Apartments on Humboldt Parkway have had several problems. The Housing Authority has been meeting with residents in an effort to make significant changes.

Last week, Housing Authority Executive Director Gillian Brown met with LBJ Apartment residents to discuss what can be done to improve their living conditions. It started with getting the elevators to work, but Brown said there is a long way to go.

Credit E.I. Team Engineers & Architects

“These residents in this building have endured several weeks of bad elevator service. They have endured a couple of years of difficult maintenance. Deferred maintenance,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure they got a chance to sit with me and tell me what was wrong and tell me what was right and tell me what they felt they needed and explain to them what we were doing to make certain things better.”

But what brought local leaders to address problems with the apartments in the first place was advocacy, according to activist Nate Boyd, who has been using Facebook Live to draw attention.

“People were reaching out to no avail,” said Boyd. “311, called the Mayor’s office, called housing, called maintenance several times, and couldn’t get anything to happen. After we did all this media blitz, they wound up getting 24-hour service to get the elevators up and down as you can see. I believe both elevators are up and working for the moment.”

Tenants say they are often without heat. Mold can be found on several walls and when they bring up these issues to management, Resident James McNeil said they run the risk of being evicted.

“If you don’t stand up for something nothing will ever happen. And most of these people here, most of them are just too scared to say anything,” said McNeil.

He wasn’t the only one saying this.

“If they (complain) about this place, these sons of a b***es down here will put um out,” said Willy, a resident who has terminal cancer. “That’s why half this building his empty now.”

Willy says the staff is rarely around.

“These been coming here three or four hours a week. And they are gone before noon,” he said.

Jerome Cummings, a retired employee of BMHA, said nepotism has taken the compassion out of the housing authority.

“A lot of the people have sicknesses where there might be some mental issues,” Cummings said. “They take full advantage of it in that office. They talk to them and treat them like animals here.”

Brown insists his staff is doing a fine job.

“I have a lot of faith in my staff. I have a great manager in this building. I have great staff in this building and we are doing everything we can.”

Joe Mascia, the former commissioner of the housing authority, says there needs to be a better system in place.

“They don’t do preventive maintenance. The Housing Authority has been reactive since I was there,” said Mascia. “I had ten years with the Housing Authority as a commissioner. I know the way they operate. And I work for the Board of Education. We have the same buildings that are just as old. But we have a maintenance program.”

Brown, who has held the job for less than a year, asks residents to give him some time while the issues are addressed. For many in the LBJ apartments, it includes addressing the staff at hand.

"Have some faith. I’m going to work on it," said Brown.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.