Congressman Brian Higgins is calling on the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. Higgins says the authority is grossly mismanaged.
Higgins says, during a tour of the Perry Homes neighborhood, Tuesday morning, he found the conditions "disgusting, unsanitary and unsafe." He's been pushing the BMHA for ten months to fix up the property which is less than a mile from Canalside. But, the South Buffalo Democrat says, the city's housing authority continues ignoring him and everybody else and that's unacceptable.
"So, I have given the city, the mayor and the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority ample time to come up with a plan. It's been about a year and there is nothing. So we will take it to a higher authority. And I'm not going away. I just don't do that. And, I think, what these authorities do, in their arrogance, is they don't respond thinking that you will go away. That's not going to happen here," Higgins said.
The BMHA receives more than $23 million in HUD subsidies and $10 million in rental income annually. But Higgins, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee says, the government and the tenants are not getting what they're paying for. Attempts to reach the BMHA for comment were not successful.
While much of the heat has been about the Perry Projects, a Buffalo councilmember says don't forget his biggest projects, with around 1,000 housing units.
University Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt's district includes Kenfield and Langfield. For reference, they flank the old Kensington High School, now Olmsted, just off the Kensington Expressway. HUD inspectors recently toured the complexes and gave grades even potential high school dropouts would be ashamed of: 54 for Kenfield and 46 for Langfield.
Wyatt said these are people, they deserve decent housing, they aren't getting it and another investigation won't help.
"I'm not sure how an investigation helps, because at the end of the day, the residents are suffering and they are without services and they are without quality housing," Wyatt said. "So what do we do in the meantime? That's what I'm concerned about. If there are some things that haven't been done right, then I'm great for an investigation. I'm more concerned about what the residents standing is right now. They're suffering."
Wyatt said he wants action, not talk, and wants the temporary new management at the BMHA to get a plan and start doing it to improve conditions. He is urging Higgins to push for more money for the city's public housing.
Robert understands the issues. He is a resident of the vast Kenfield/Langfield complex. A disabled vet on dialysis, Robert told WBFO about one of the loudest complaints being made to the housing authority: the basic problem of functioning stoves for the food he needs.
"It's their stove. The thermostat is gone. So we've got to watch how we put something in the oven and cook it," Roberet said. "They don't fix the stoves no more. They told us we have to go buy one."
Other residents interviewed during a walkthrough Tuesday had the same complaint: stoves that don't work and aren't replaced, sometimes for years - a basic life need.
Kenfield resident Sharon Graham Hunter said some of the problems are dangerous.
"The past couple of years have been quite bad," Graham Hunter said. "These lights over here have been out for several years, from this one, this one and this one, which belong to municipal houses. These ones over here - one, two, three, four, five - they belong to the Lighthouse. They've been out throughout the winter. Every last one of them went out on the same day."
Another resident also talked about the outdoor light situation, which make it dangerous to walk even from a car to a front door.
There are also the shootings residents complained about and the sound of gunshots audible inside and outside apartments. Jecia Alexander said it is a tough place to raise kids.
"I have four small children - I have a six-year-old, a four-year-old and two nine-month-old twins - and we can't go outside like that all the time because there's always shootings," Alexander said. "There's always something really close by happening and there's always potholes almost everywhere you go, down in the grass and everything. They barely even cut the grass."
"Only thing that I want to make certain that we address is that this should not be sub-standard housing," Wyatt said. "We have residents that live there and deserve every right that any other resident deserves - for quality, affordable housing - and it seems as thought that the cuts that HUD has made that's harmed this facility has been detrimental."