For months, Housing Commissioner Joe Mascia has been warning Mayor Byron Brown about mismanagement at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority — which exposes the agency to federal receivership by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“They are using federal monies for political purposes,” Commissioner Mascia alleges.
Mayor Brown appoints five of the agency’s seven commissioners, giving the Mayor firm control over the agency. He has appointed his finance director, Michael Seaman, to serve as the agency’s chairman.
“I’m sure that Seaman meets with the Mayor on a daily basis,” Mascia said. “But he refuses to respond to my emails and phone calls.”
Mascia is one of two resident elected commissioners to a board that the Mayor, in practice, directs. That makes the Mayor responsible for the scandalous corruption and managerial incompetence that is taking place at the agency, says Mascia.
“He is responsible, and when we fall into federal receivership — it’s going to be on him,” Mascia concludes.
Mascia has been advancing a tenant backed turnaround plan for the agency that ends the agency’s security contract with the Buffalo Police Department and replaces the current Mayoral appointments to the board with experts in accounting, law, development, property management, and urban planning.
He has also called for a new Executive Director and senior management team — including replacing the General Counsel and Assistant Executive Director.
The Executive Director, Dawn Garrett-Sanders is the goddaughter of Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes. She was hired through a Board selection process led by Betty Calvos Torres, who was later appointed to a city judgeship. She lost a previous job with the city.
Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes has been known to use the agency for her own patronage. She has several friends and relatives at the agency, including her husband.
Commissioner Mascia doesn’t have kind words for her deputy, either.
“Modesto Candelario [the Assistant Executive Director] has a creative financial plan: not pay any vendors. That makes the bottom line look good. With money in and no money out, it gives a false impression on the books that everything is ok,” explains Mascia. “You have to give him credit for being creative and devious at the same time.”
“We need someone with real property management experience,” Mascia says. “I would bring in someone from the private sector.”
Mascia supports a phased transition to a system of resident managed corporations that would independently manage each of the agency’s 31 properties.
Others support a state receivership of the agency in order to stabilize the system, which houses over 12,000 residents. Improvement needs have been estimated in the range of several hundred million dollars.
Some of the agency’s properties have fallen into a state of disrepair and could cost hundreds of millions to transform into mixed use neighborhoods.
Observers think the state would be more able to mobilize resources for necessary improvements. While Mascia does not support receivership, he acknowledges that it may be inevitable because of the pervasive managerial incompetence at the agency.
——-Original Message——-From:firstname.lastname@example.orgDate: 3/27/2015 6:34:15 AMSubject: Fw: Stunning incompetence at Housing Authority has residents concernedStill need to meet with you. Things are starting to unravel. The executive staff can’t be saved. I have a plan that can save the Authority before receivership. Seaman has lost credibility. He should resign.Any time or any place. Needs to happen sooner than later. 289-9861Joe
“The Mayor needs to step up and listen. There is a problem. Not accepting it isn’t a solution and if there is no action there is no Housing Authority. The residents will suffer,” he says, explaining that he is the only person at the authority who is trying to steer the agency away from receivership.
“I still think that there may be criminal charges against some of the Executive staff,” Mascia says.
“You have a Board of appointed Commissioners that refuse to know what’s really going on and don’t ask questions. Their philosophy is if they don’t know they can’t be held responsible,” he explains. “Guess what, the Executive Director can get fired but the Board can go to jail!”
The Mayor communicates to the board entirely through Seaman, the Commissioner alleges.