About two dozen residents of the Niagara Park and Apple Walk apartments and their advocates took complaints about unhealthy and unsafe living conditions to the City Council Tuesday.
For about an hour, the residents, several ministers and Niagara County Legislator Renae Kimble demanded that the Council do something to run "bad landlords" out of town. In particular they challenged Council Chairwoman Connie M. Lozinsky, an attorney, who does work for Signature Housing Solutions, the management company.
Ms. Lozinsky said she has represented Signature for three years or more "on evictions only."
The apartments, formerly known as Unity Park, in the city's North End are privately owned and operated.
Ms. Lozinsky said that when the tenants complaints were publicized about a month ago, she made an offer to City Administrator Anthony J. Restaino and Ms. Kimble to help facilitate and to work with the tenants association, and "no one has called."
She said she has spoken to Laurie Dunning, Signature's vice president of operations, and was told the problems would be addressed.
"I actually think we've made quite a few improvements that they asked for," Ms. Dunning said by phone after the meeting.
Ms. Kimble read a long letter from Signature detailing improvements the company said it had made or that were in progress. She disputed most of them.
She and Cecilia E. Holloman, a community liaison with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said an investigation by a task force of housing, code enforcement and law enforcement agencies from the local to federal levels could turn up information that would be embarrassing to the city.
"It would be in the best interests of this Council to take a position before those facts come out," she said.
The group chastised the City Council and Ms. Lozinsky over a report that City Water Director Ralph F. Aversa had negotiated a settlement under which Signature would pay $62,512 to settle a $104,199 meter-tampering water theft case. Ms. Kimble accused Ms. Lozinsky of conflict of interest.
Ms. Lozinsky said that she had no role in the negotiations and that if the settlement came before the Council she would abstain.
Councilman Vince V. Anello and acting Corporation Counsel Timothy G. Bax said such a settlement could not be implemented without approval. Bax said that, as far as he is concerned, Signature still is obligated for the entire amount of the bill. He said that he and members of the Inspections Department met with Ms. Kimble and that the apartments have been inspected.
"There is an ongoing investigation," he said. "We're pursuing every remedy we can to recover everything owed to the City of Niagara Falls and to get the results you want, healthy and safe living conditions."
Councilman Anthony F. Quaranto said the city closed down the former DeVeaux Apartments years ago after similar complaints. He said the residents should have come to the Council two months ago, and he questioned the timing of Tuesday's turnout, a week before the Primary Election.
He questioned what the city's Human Rights Division is doing. Ms. Kimble is deputy director of the Human Rights Division and is facing a challenge for her 2nd District Legislature seat in next week's primary.
Anello told the residents, "We are with you," but said such issues as building inspections and enforcement of federal Section 8 lease subsidies are administrative functions outside of the authority of the Council. The tenants group called for an end to the apartments' Section 8 subsidies, which Bax said probably run in the "hundreds of thousands."
In other business, the Council:
Approved a contract with Nustadia Developments USA, a subsidiary of Toronto's Nustadia Developments, to conduct a feasibility study of development potential at Hyde Park, including possible expansion of the Hyde Park Ice Pavilion, a twin-rink complex.
Awarded a $744,590 contract to Armand Cerrone Inc. for the first phase of City Market improvements, including parking lot paving, the demolition of one-third of the existing farmers' market stalls and construction of a new farmers' market tied into the former supermarket at the Pine Avenue site.
Awarded a $50,665 contract to Faery's Landscaping of Ransomville for the first phase of construction on Trolley Stop Park on Main Street. Groundbreaking is set for noon Sept. 17.
Approved three contracts for construction of a new LaSalle Park comfort station. MMR Construction would be paid $72,000 for general construction; CIR Electrical Construction of Buffalo will be paid $10,570 for the electrical work; and Cayuga Piping will be paid $35,180 for plumbing. Also approved was a contract with J. Martin Contracting of Kenmore for $9,499 to demolish the old comfort station and $7,089 to remove its asbestos.
Approved a $15,000 out-of-court settlement with Michael J. Bergey of Lewiston, who suffered heart attack symptoms when he was arrested in 1996 on housing code violation charges on property he owns in the city. The charges were later dismissed.