City Hall's new top attorney has a message for people who let their properties become neighborhood eyesores.
"Absentee landlords, beware," said Alisa A. Lukasiewicz, who was unanimously confirmed Tuesday by the Common Council to head the Law Department. "We need to be aggressive."
For starters, Lukasiewicz plans to beef up Buffalo's presence in Housing Court. The city currently has one attorney dealing with thousands of cases. The new corporation counsel said she plans to assign a second lawyer to deal with housing issues. She added the city will also be more vigilant in taking legal action to collect outstanding judgments and recover costs involved in correcting housing violations and demolishing structures.
Mayor Byron W. Brown, who nominated Lukasiewicz to the $86,145 job, expects the Law Department to play a bigger role in improving the quality of life in neighborhoods.
"And there's also the potential to generate revenue," said Brown.
The city's pledge to take new measures targeting slumlords is being praised by an East Side housing activist. Michele Johnson is a volunteer community liaison for Housing Court.
"We need all the help we can get in a city that may have as many as 20,000 vacant homes and many absentee landlords who live out of state," said Johnson.
Lukasiewicz is a former assistant Erie County attorney who is a partner in the Hurwitz & Fine law firm of Buffalo. She's resigning her law firm job and will begin her new city job Monday. City Housing Judge Henry J. Nowak said he plans to meet with her soon.
The Council also unanimously confirmed another member of Brown's Cabinet on Tuesday. Tanya Perrin-Johnson, former chief executive officer of the YWCA of Western New York, is the new community services commissioner. In her $73,335 job, she will focus on issues ranging from providing services to senior citizens, to overseeing the distribution of aid to community groups.
In other action Tuesday, the Council:
* Authorized the mayor to proceed with negotiating a final agreement with the New York Power Authority that would pump $279 million into developing Erie County's waterfront over 50 years.
* Approved about $22 million in capital projects, including renovations to aging firehouses and sidewalk and curb upgrades throughout the city.
* Supported a long-term blueprint aimed at revitalizing the city. The city's Comprehensive Plan sets general policies and development priorities. But Senior Deputy Corporation Counsel David J. State said the plan deals more with "generic" goals, stressing that any actual changes in zoning or other city policies would have to be revisited by lawmakers.
* Sent to committee a proposed fair-housing law. Sponsor Antoine M. Thompson of the Masten District said the goal is to pass legislation that would balance the rights of property owners with those who wish to rent from them or buy their dwellings.