Bridget Myles had dreamed of homeownership. She lived in Niagara Falls all her life and experienced the economic hardship and struggles that are common in the City’s Black community, which has always experienced political and economic marginalization, despite being the birthplace of the NAACP and the last stop on the Underground Railroad.
That’s why she was ecstatic in 2016, when she was on the cusp of acquiring a house out of the City’s foreclosure process. It was a quaint home on 60th Street, just off Buffalo Avenue near the Grand Island Bridges. She thought that she was on the brink of “ending the cycle” for her family, through homeownership — something that governments far and wide have heralded as the path to accumulating wealth and social mobility.
The single mother of three had worked in Niagara Falls for 25 years. Her hard work had finally lead her to an opportunity that would be transformative for her family.
Or so she thought.
She was encouraged by Councilman Kenny Tompkins to attend the Niagara Falls Community Development Homeownership Auction on April 14, 2016, with her friend and auction coach, Bill Caroll. She was the successful bidder on 204 60th Street.
“I could feel the weight being lifted off of my shoulders. It was a sigh of relief. I felt like I was finally breaking the cycle and would now be able to help my family members, as well as neighbors in the community, to accomplish the same dream through what I thought was the perfect housing program,” she wrote in an editorial recounting her experience.
She followed the proper steps and did everything she was supposed to as she started the process of becoming a homeowner — following every City policy meticulously.
Then suddenly, in heartbreaking fashion, her dream was dismantled.
When she met Community Development staff she discovered that her file was on hold because they were unable to gain access to the inside of the home to conduct an inspection. Weeks later, she contacted Richard Zucco, the City’s assistant Corporation Counsel to determine the status of the purchase.
That’s when Zucco told her that he was not going to evict an elderly woman, whom the City had already foreclosed upon. Zucco further stated that the woman “only owed $6,000” in back taxes, accumulated over several years, and claimed that the “the property should never have been auctioned off.” Myles was confused. It was not until months after the auction that she became aware that a person was even living in the home.
(In other situations, like that of Sean Wilczak, the City had foreclosed on 326 Cedar Avenue for barely $1,000 in tax debt accumulated for a single year; and then subsequently sold the property to Bernice Radle, a close friend of Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo).
Then on May 12, Myles received an email from Zucco that stated that the Planning Board had recommended the approval of her sale the previous night. His office would initiate eviction proceedings if the house was still occupied after June 1st, he said.
“Once we know that we can deliver the vacant/vacated house to you, we will proceed with processing your sale,” he wrote. On June 1st, Zucco filed eviction papers and set an eviction hearing date of June 14.
“I just prayed that God would place them in a safe and affordable home or apartment and that things would work out for their family as well as my family,” she explained.
The day before the hearing, Zucco emailed Myles to explain that the eviction had been adjourned to give the prior owner another chance to pay the back taxes.
“This entire experience made me question the Niagara Falls Community Development Homeownership Auction program and who is it truly designed to benefit. Based on my experience, it does not appear to be for hard-working individuals who wish to live their dreams of becoming homeowners,” Myles explained at the time. “The city needs and wants first-time home buyers, why not create a strategy that is transparent, fair, and implemented with consistency?”