At the Homeless Alliance, we say that folks have the right to safe, adequate, and affordable housing. Too often in Buffalo, housing is of two kinds:
1) It is affordable, but not safe and adequate; or
2) It is safe and adequate, but far from affordable.
One place, though, where housing is expected to be safe, affordable, and adequate is in our public housing system. Unfortunately, the Buffalo News reported today that Buffalo’s public housing (administered and managed by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority) has “miserable conditions”.
The entire article is posted behind the jump.
FOCUS: PUBLIC HOUSING WOES
Miserable conditions plague public housing residents
Housing Authority’s problems put residents in unhealthy and threatening conditions
By Deidre Williams
NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Updated: 08/21/08 8:21 AM
A playground is supposed to be cheery and full of life. Children’s laughter should float out into the neighborhood.
But that’s not the case at some of Buffalo’s public housing playgrounds.
No children play there. There’s no laughter or joy.
At one playground on a recent day, there was broken equipment and lots of trash and broken glass, as well as drug dealings and the sound of gunfire.
At another, there were pools of what appeared to be blood. It had been there for days, nearby residents said.
Playgrounds aren’t the only problem. The young and the elderly — the most vulnerable of tenants — often face unhealthy if not life-threatening conditions at some of the housing developments owned by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority: Ferry Grider, Kenfield and Langfield on the city’s East Side and Jasper Parrish in Riverside.
The conditions include:
• Some senior residents stay in certain areas of their units because they don’t feel safe in their homes.
• Many residents, including several elderly ones, use buckets in bathrooms and bedrooms to catch rainwater coming through the light fixtures.
• Squirrels, birds and other critters scurry around in the ceiling of residents’ units, the result of unfinished work from last year that left gaping holes in the roof.
“I didn’t know it was this bad. I’m sorry it is,” said Leonard Williams, a tenant commissioner.
How did the conditions get to this point?
“It didn’t happen overnight,” said Housing Authority Executive Director Dawn E. Sanders. “I think we have some gaps — not to place
the blame on anybody. I have found there are areas that need attention that have had some historic neglect.”
But many of the tenants believe there aren’t enough maintenance workers or they are not doing their job.
Thousia Davis, 71, said the site manager at Ferry Grider, where she lives, took pictures of the damage to her bathroom ceiling and told her he would put in a work order in March. The plaster was falling down because of the constant rainwater streaming through the vent.
After several days, Davis called the Housing Authority maintenance department and found out the work order had not been filed. The problem still exists.
“I have to put a pail down to catch the rainwater every time,” said Davis. “And I just have to hope it doesn’t rain all night because if it does, it overflows.”
Board Chairman Michael Seaman said housing officials didn’t know how bad things had gotten, and he cites two reasons for that — intimidation and disconnection.
He believes that intimidation causes residents to be reluctant about bringing the issue to the attention of the executive staff.
“If a resident has a problem, the site managers may say, ‘I’ll get to it. If you don’t like it, I’ll evict you,’ ” Seaman said. “If residents are intimidated or harassed by a site manager, residents can be afraid of them. [Tenants] need to let us know and we’ll bring [managers] in and hold them accountable.”
There is also a disconnect between on-site personnel and headquarters.
“So, for instance, if a property manager or maintenance supervisor is not telling [headquarters] about issues, whether they’re crime-related or complaints, we don’t know about them,” Seaman said.
A roofing problem has also bothered some Jasper Parrish residents.
Three years ago, the former board of commissioners decided to redevelop Jasper Parrish from project-style housing into a mixed-income community. The Department of Housing and Urban Development told the Housing Authority to patch the roofs because people were living there, Williams said.
Even though the current board decided not to tear down Jasper Parrish, it went forward with a plan to fix the roofs. It hasn’t happened yet.
“There was an actual contract, but because of a number of issues, work got stopped and everybody dropped the ball and no one picked it up,” Williams said. “We will rebid the entire job.”
Meanwhile, some tenants there tell stories of water bubbles forming in bathroom ceilings and water coming through the light fixtures.
Seaman suggests that a new management system mandated by HUD “will change things.”
In 2006, HUD ruled that housing authorities across the country had to convert from general management to asset-based or project-based management, meaning the agency’s central office on Perry Street becomes a management company, and individual developments or small groups of developments become separate clients that must function like a private development.
Each development or small groups of developments will have its own budget, maintenance department and manager.
“We are changing managers and relocating managers. We are restructuring. We’re remanaging. . . . We have key people in the right places and people to be held accountable,” Seaman said.
The new system will face serious problems.
For example, last year, Ferry Grider changed to regulated heat and contractors putting in new roofs as part of that project found asbestos, officials said.
“When the contractor found asbestos in the roof, it started a saga. And the contractor refused to work on the roof,” Seaman said. “We may patch them up for now, and we will rebid the whole roofing job.”
Work left undone
Sanders said a contractor patched up the roofs about a month ago. Many residents with leaky roofs said the work didn’t begin until the first week of August and that they still have problems.
“It’s very distressing that the residents of some of the [Housing Authority] developments have to live in these conditions,” said Joseph Mascia, a tenant commissioner who lives in Marine Drive Apartments. “I think that all of the commissioners and staff should come and witness . . . these very severe problems as soon as possible,” he said.
In fact, the seven-member board of commissioners will for the first time tour all 27 of the agency’s properties later this month.
Residents worry about another cold winter. Even though the thermostats were set at 72 degrees when the development went to regulated heat last year, it felt more like 40, many said, because of the roof problem.
“Oh, it was so cold. I just froze,” said Candy Watson, 72, who has lived in her Ferry Grider apartment for 30 years.
Before Watson returned home from the hospital after hip replacement surgery, her social worker called the Housing Authority to get a rail installed so she can get up and down the stairs of her two-story unit, she said.
More than a month later, no rail has been installed, and she is confined to certain areas inside her own home.
Seaman believes “it’s time to put closure on some of these things. We can still make it a good place to live.”
But at Ferry Grider, Rosemary Gandy, 49, president of the Ferry Grider Tenant Council, “can’t even let my grandkids play” in the playground there.
“I’m afraid they’ll get hurt,” she said.