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Big choices ahead for new housing commissioners

Newly appointed commissioners of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority will have big decisions to make soon, and Common Council members hope that one will involve upgrading safety in public housing.

The Council confirmed four of Mayor Byron W. Brown's nominees Thursday to help overhaul an authority that has been criticized by federal housing officials and city auditors.

Before the vote, lawmakers implored the incoming commissioners to consider restoring the Public Safety Department, which was abolished last summer. The 26-member police force was eliminated in a move expected to save $2 million. Some noted that few public housing authorities have their own police forces.

But Council members say it is unrealistic to expect Buffalo's shrinking Police Department to absorb all public safety duties in the 27 housing developments. Some lawmakers have even raised the possibility of using city funds to restore the authority's police force.

The new commissioners said they need to dissect Housing Authority finances before taking any formal stands. But attorney Betty Calvo-Torres, one of the appointees, said revisiting the public safety issue should be a priority.

"We need to take a very close look at it and see if it's possible from a budget standpoint to bring it back," Calvo-Torres said Thursday, referring to the public safety unit.

Michael A. Seaman, the city's director of treasury and collections who was also confirmed as a housing commissioner, said he doubts it would be feasible to reinstate the entire 26-member police force. But Seaman said it might be possible to reassemble a smaller force if the Housing Authority can save money in other areas. One example, he said, might involve consolidating some services with the city.

Also confirmed as commissioners by the Council were Ronald Brown, chief fiscal officer of Friends to the Elderly, Friends and Family Services, and Hal D. Payne, vice president for student affairs at Buffalo State College.

The nominations were approved, 6-2, with Council President David A. Franczyk of the Fillmore District and South Council Member Michael P. Kearns voting against. The two had pushed unsuccessfully for an amendment asking commissioners to file a progress report this spring to address concerns such as public safety and use of city subsidies.

Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana, who initially called for the progress report, said he would sponsor a resolution that would ask the Housing Authority to provide a written update this spring addressing the issues.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. expressed confidence that the new commissioners would help reform an authority recently assailed as being poorly managed, unresponsive and inefficient.


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