Housing Commissioner Joe Mascia — who was elected to five consecutive terms by a largely minority base of support — is widely expected to challenge longtime incumbent David Franzcyk for the Fillmore district council seat. Political observers expect that Mascia will make BMHA’s privatization an issue for the incumbent, who just allowed BMHA to transfer ownership of AD Price Courts, a 270 unit property that remains vacant, to a quasi-private entity that BMHA’s officers ostensibly control.
Assistant Director Modesto Candelario has been pushing a privatization strategy for years, and the Common Council unanimously endorsed it two weeks ago when they allowed BMHA to spin off the property.
At Candelario’s behest, the authority has been partnering with private investors to redevelop housing complexes that were intentionally neglected, by taking equity ownership positions in the properties. BMHA sells private developers a portion of the ownership, in exchange for a cut of the rents. It gives the investor a property that doesn’t have property tax liabilities, and whose operating and maintenance expenses are shared with a non-profit entity ostensibly controlled by BMHA officers.
The plan has been to spin off properties into non-profit entities, whose board members are familiar BMHA commissioners and senior staff. These non-profits are then to operate these complexes quasi-independently of the government, backed by an equity investor to whom they deliver a return.
In essence, the staff of BMHA is planning to spin off massive publicly owned properties into private investment vehicles, under the guise of a non-profit entity, that they themselves manage and control, for the purpose of delivering a return to their private investor, a firm called Northstar.
The governance model lacks transparency, oversight, and accountability. Residents worry that the strategy will lead to unregulated rent increases, neighborhood gentrification, and residential displacement. Some wonder aloud whether the transactions constitute public corruption.
Mascia concerned about residential displacement in transitional neighborhoods
The ongoing discourse on gentrification has riled considerable discontent, particularly in transitional neighborhoods. Mascia sees the BMHA’s effort to privatize public housing complexes as part of that market driven process, pushed by real estate interests who see enormous profit in repopulating poor minority neighborhoods.
He cites “Perry Choice,” a redevelopment plan that sought to privatize much of the redevelopment of the Commodore Perry Projects, a pre-WWII complex that BMHA has allowed to deteriorate over decades. In recent years, it has been left intentionally vacant — at the cost of about $1.5 million annually in federal subsidies — because the authority had intended to redevelop the property.
But the redevelopment project when nowhere after the federal grant application was rejected because it stated the objective of diluting the concentration of the African American population in the neighborhood.
“They tried to gentrify working class people out of Perry, they are doing it at AD Price Courts, they want to do it at Marine Drive,” says Mascia. “We need to grow our neighborhoods collaboratively, with arms locked as neighbors.”
Mascia thinks that we can have both robust real estate investment in transitional neighborhoods without displacing long time residents — “a byproduct of gentrification that absolutely must be prevented with policy solutions,” he argues.
“Right now, the housing policy in this city has been to subsidize high end luxury housing in historic buildings with millions upon millions in gap financing and transfer payments to the city’s wealthiest real estate interests,” he says. “While families at BMHA are treated — not as rent paying tenants — but as undeserving peasants whose buildings should be left for neglect decade after decade.”
“It is a real stain on this city’s entire leadership. There is no excuse for this, and David Franzcyk has a lot of explaining to do,” he says.
Mascia is expected to speak at an “Anti-Racism” rally organized by his close friend, County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, this Saturday at Niagara Square. He is expected to deliver prepared remarks, which are much anticipated in political circles. This will be Mascia’s first major public address in his bid for Common Council, which he is expected to announce in the coming weeks.
It is rumored that he will speak about the local construction industry’s failure to meet diversity goals on government construction projects, already established in state law.