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Neighbors, Buffalo Council Members clash on housing authority

Posted at 6:34 PM, Nov 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-20 18:34:50-05

Anger and frustration with the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority were on display at City Hall, Tuesday. A group of BMHA residents attended Buffalo Common Council committee meetings, calling on the members to put more pressure on BMHA to fix a number of different problems at properties in the city.

7 Eyewitness News has reported on sanitary and safety issues at multiple properties maintained by the BMHA since January. Tenants have experienced issues with urine in hallways and broken elevators. One 70-year-old woman was living without heat or hot water for two weeks.

Many residents told council members similar issues are still going unaddressed in properties across the city.

"Because they don't have to live like we do," John Williams said, speaking about BMHA administrators. He lives in Buffalo Municipal Housing on Perry Street. "They don't care--I can't say they don't care, but they don't care because they don't live down near where we live at."

In March, former BMHA executive director Dawn Sanders-Garrett resigned unexpectedly. Gillian Brown stepped in as interim executive director and took over the role officially in September.

The Buffalo Common Council has limited oversight capacity when it comes to BMHA, but it questioned Brown about specific issues raised by tenants during a Community Development Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon.

"I can't defend the indefensible," Brown said. "I can't sit here and say the conditions that were described, that I've heard from this morning, were the way people should be living. They're not."

The Common Council moved forward with two appointments to the BMHA Board of Commissioners. The body also has investigatory and subpoena power over the authority.

"I know that we've changed executive directors, but it seems there are the same problems," University District Council Member Rasheed Wyatt said. "Folks are looking for answers. And they're frustrated and angry that these answers continue to seem to be not listened to. They've been overlooked and they're tired of it. And quite honestly, we're tired of it."

Brown would not discuss specific tenant issues over concerns of privacy, but agreed to look at a number of issues brought up during the meeting. He also promised to meet with residents more often to hear their concerns.

"I think it's a big deal whenever somebody has complaints, regardless of whether it's the housing authority or whether it is a private landlord. They need to be answered," Common Council President Darius Pridgen said. "We do want to give the executive director the ability to turn the housing authority around, but there are some issues that we can't wait on. They need to be taken care of right away."

Nate Boyd spoke on behalf of a number of BMHA residents. He doesn't live in municipal housing himself, but has used his social media presence to raise awareness of those concerns.

"The people are done with this garbage," he said during a tense exchange with Masten District Council Member Ulysees Wingo in the hallway between meetings. "You either represent us or we're going to vote your butts out."

"These are real issues. These are real concerns and no one wants their loved one to live in the conditions that were described earlier today," Wingo said, later, in the meeting.

He also asked for more civility from residents as the council works with them to hold the BMHA accountable.

"Not by calling people out on their name," Wingo said. "Not by shouting and being disrespectful and interrupting people. That's not how we build relationships. We build relationships through respect."

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