Lisa M. Pugliese, the director of the Buffalo field office of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, is threatening a federal receivership of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority if sweeping turnaround plans are not produced and adopted within 30 days, in a letter dated March 31. The agency has chronically received substandard designations from the federal agency.
“The BMHA is in a precarious financial position, combined with the continued vacancy issue, there are many serious issues to be addressed at the BMHA. It is imperative that specific corrective actions be taken as soon as possible to avoid potential receivership,” director Pugliese writes.
“BMHA must correct its deficient performance areas within 90 days of the date of its substandard designation, or HUD may initiate actions to develop and implement an Action Plan to document and ensure that recovery efforts have been put in place,” she warns.
The letter also indicated that it is likely BMHA will be assessed as troubled under the Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS) for the agency’s 2015 fiscal year evaluation. The most recent evaluation data available is for fiscal year 2013, and the metrics being evaluated have not materially improved since.
“[BMHA] has failed to maintain an acceptable occupancy level in its developments. This is the main cause for the substandard score,” she explains. “The BMHA currently has 598 vacant units, and an overall occupancy rate of 84%.”
At the same time that nearly 600 units sit vacant or deteriorating in BMHA’s developments, the waiting lists for BMHA’s Section 8 voucher assistance program, as well as those for the Rental Assistance Corporation and the Belmont Shelter Corporation, are closed because they are too long. People are waiting beyond two years to access a voucher that would allow them to obtain assisted housing.
The AD Price Courts property is entirely vacant, comprising 170 units. The Commodore Perry property has 279 vacant units of 414 total. Those two problem properties, which have fallen into a state of disrepair, comprise the majority of the 598 vacant units.
“For Calendar Year 2015, the BMHA lost $1.5 million in subsidy eligibility as well as the potential tenant generated rental income, due to vacant units,” Pugliese writes.
The director offered several suggestions that mirrored those of elected Housing Commissioner Joseph Mascia, a longtime critic of the authority firmly controlled by appointees of Mayor Byron Brown. Among those suggestions:
Assess the feasibility and desirability of under occupied developments, e.g. physical condition and configuration, rehabilitation costs and lifespan, neighborhood factors such as crime and proximity to employment, transportation, and services, etc., and consider repositioning options if appropriate
Ensure that units taken off line for modernization, special use, or other allowed reasons have been approved by HUD, do not exceed their permissible time limitation (e.g. three years maximum for modernization units), and are correctly classified in HUD systems
Consider contracting property management of Public Housing to another entity or public housing agency