BY T.W. HEWITT
The high profile elected Housing Commissioner Joe Masica is likely to seek reelection to his office this May, in a campaign intended to draw a sharp and compelling contrast with the administration of Mayor Byron Brown. At the same time, some activists have been urging Mascia to seek the Buffalo School Board’s Central District seat.
Mascia is likely to focus his reelection bid on one bold and sweeping policy proposal.
Since the Brown administration has already decided to privatize the municipal housing authority’s properties, Mascia wants to give those 4,200 units to the residents living in them rather than giving them to a wealthy developer — Norstar Development — as the Mayor intends to continue to do.
“This would prevent tenants from being forced out of the central city, where developers are exerting pressure to have them relocated,” says a housing authority official familiar with Mascia’s thinking. “Joe wants poor folks, especially minority families, to own their units and govern their complexes through homeowner associations.”
Giving the tenants of public housing units ownership of those units could dissolve the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, a longtime symbol of corruption and mismanagement. Supporters of the proposal say that it would put thousands of units on the property tax rolls, and allow tenants to take responsibility for the upkeep and security of their properties through homeowner associations.
Anti-poverty advocates argue that gifting these units to the city’s most vulnerable populations would give those families equity ownership of their units, which could appreciate in value overtime as the city’s rebound progresses.
The concept was developed by the Libertarian attorney James Ostrowski, a North Buffalo resident who has authored several books that contemplate smaller government policies designed to better serve the poor and working class.
“If these families are given ownership, they will turnaround their own neighborhoods and we can free ourselves from corrupt administrators at 300 Perry,” a Mascia supporter explains.
Such a bold policy proposal could attract attention to the typically obscure election of housing commissioner. Mascia is the highest profile housing commissioner in the city’s history, and intends to use that notoriety to bring attention to pressing social justice issues in the community.
While only two seats on the seven seat Board of Commissioners are elected offices, the five others are appointees of the Mayor, who has firm control over the authority and is responsible for its management. But if Mascia makes the election a high profile debate over how BMHA should be privatized — for the benefit of the developers or for benefit of the residents — then he may force the Mayor’s hand.
“This plan would have a transformative impact on the lives of 4,200 families who will, overnight, become homeowners and property tax payers, and who will feel the security and dignity that comes with ownership,” says another Mascia supporter.
“We can easily eliminate overpaid administrators whose jobs are unnecessary and heavily subsidized by taxpayers, and whose substandard management has kept poor people in deplorable housing conditions so that those administrators can keep their six figure salaries,” he concluded.
In recent weeks, former Mascia foes who once called for his resignation are urging him to seek reelection, including tenant representative Sam Smith, an African American who is prominent in housing authority politics.
“They would look at his body of work, and see how he has helped residents, and I would think they want someone like Joe to fight for them,” Smith is quoted as saying in a January Buffalo News article penned by veteran reporter Sue Schulman.
“Joe is the person that should be running. He is the person that should be sitting here,” said Yvonne Martinez, the only other tenant elected Housing Commissioner, in the same News article. “He is always available for the community, for the residents.”
Smith predicts that Mascia is likely to win.