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Agency has accomplished a lot even with fund cuts

As director of administration and finance for the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, I am compelled to comment on the recent volley of attacks on the agency. What has not been printed is any mention of the numerous citations, awards and commendations made on behalf of this authority for its accomplishments and performance on a nationwide basis. Accolades have even been received from the same reviewers and auditors whose reports have recently been discussed in The News.

I have been at the authority for the past 10 years, so I will restrict my comments to these years. In 1995, the Housing Authority had two open external audits that contained a total of 37 audit findings. It was also undergoing a comprehensive Housing and Urban Development Inspector General audit that resulted in nine findings being published in an audit report in June 1996. All of these findings were closed expeditiously.

Financially, the Housing Authority has been without audit findings since then. Our most recent external audit also indicates the authority to be free of any financial findings.

The authority has streamlined and downsized over the past few years, perhaps a bit too quickly. We began implementing the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998, which changed the way the authority functioned in many respects. At the same time, our funding levels were reduced.

Since fiscal year 2000, HUD's funding cuts in the operating budget alone have eliminated nearly $5 million in subsidy. That represents 28 percent of our current subsidy level. The operating budget covers basic necessity items such as utilities to provide heating, light and water. They comprise nearly 28 percent of the total budget. Add to these cuts the elimination of several other federal grants, and one sees that the authority has lost additional funds totaling more than $2 million per year combined.

Ten years ago, we had more than 450 staff and oversaw five major programs. Currently, we have 267 employees and oversee 11 major programs. We have been reduced from 20 administrators to 11. In my department alone, we've gone from 12 degree-holding accountants to six. This drain of professional staff has been a detriment to the authority. Federal funding cuts and congressional mandates have been overburdening to the staff. The Housing Authority has been managing more with less for several years now.

The federal mandates issued by Congress have sent housing authorities across the nation reeling and staggering to meet deadlines and stay within their budgets. It's been a tumultuous and arduous task. However, I have no doubt in my mind we will prevail and pull it all together.

We have been forced into our current situation with HUD's restricting of its funding methods and levels, but we have a fiduciary responsibility not just to the taxpayers of this nation, but to the most important people involved in public housing -- its tenants. We will do everything in our power to not let the Housing Authority fail. Period.

Cheryl MacMillan is director of administration and finance for the Housing Authority.

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