Congressman Brian Higgins, our region’s emissary to the federal government for more than a decade, has stepped into the crisis situation at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. He is demanding answers from Executive Director Dawn Sanders-Garrett. BMHA has a $40 million federally funded budget, but it is mismanaged by appointees of Mayor Byron Brown, a close Higgins ally.
BMHA’s fiscal situation has become so dire that it has discontinued the security patrol at Marine Drive Apartments during the hours of midnight through 4pm, which is funded by $600,000 payment arrangement to the City of Buffalo’s police department. Residents have complained to the Congressman that this lack of security has led to an increase in late night and daytime crime, including drug trafficking. That activity comes from events that surround the waterfront complex, residents say.
“Let me assure you, it is not the residents of Marine Drive that are causing this activity bu the lack of security that we all have been asking to be restored. We have families, elderly and disabled people living living here and we do not want to see this type of activity being allowed here. The residents do not want to be associated with this type of activity and are asking for your help,” Housing Commissioner Joe Mascia wrote to Congressman Higgins on May 1st. “The fault lies with BMHA and their lack of concern for the residents and the people of WNY.”
These budget cuts come at a time when the authority has made crime prevention a top priority. Years ago, the authority had its own security patrols, which were disbanded. A services contract was then imposed with the city’s police department. The authority pays $600,000 to the police department for security services that residents have always been lacking.
Higgins is worried that criminal activity at BHMA’s flagship complex — the Marine Drive Apartments — could have a devastating impact on Canalside development and public recreation, which has been heralded in recent years as the region’s top success story.
Mascia has been fighting BMHA’s board to dissolve the contract with the city police department and bring back BMHA security officers, but five of seven seats are appointed by the Mayor, who has refused to make quality of life concerns at the city’s 31 public housing complexed a priority. The authority has long been used as a “patronage pit” for the once-powerful political club known as Grassroots. That group’s influence has waned in recent years, and its activists have grown stale and arthritic.