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BMHA director search narrows to three finalists

The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority -- under a revamped board trying to turn around the troubled agency -- has narrowed its search for an executive director to three candidates.

One is local and has never run a public housing program. Another -- currently unemployed -- is from out of state and has public housing experience at a larger authority. The third is currently the executive director of a much smaller housing authority in Watertown.

The three -- Dawn E. Sanders, Lawrence D. Williams and Bruce M. Goewey -- will be interviewed Monday and Tuesday by the seven-member board of commissioners.

The Housing Authority has been without a permanent executive director since February 2005, when Sharon West left to take a similar job with the City of Tampa in Florida. Since then, Interim Executive Director Gillian D. Brown, the authority's general counsel, has been running the agency.

Sanders, Williams and Goewey will be interviewed for a position that gave West an $89,000 base salary plus an expense account and a $600-a-month penthouse in Stuyvesant Apartments. However, the board eliminated the expense account and apartment after a critical audit from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in December 2005.

Sanders, who did not return phone calls seeking comment, has been employed by HUD as a community planning and development representative the past nine years. She does not have any experience running a public housing program.

Williams, who lives in Petersburg, Va., was last employed as a regional director for Baltimore's housing authority from 2005 to 2006. There, about 3,500 units out of 15,000 were subject to his daily supervision, he said.

Before that, from 2001 to 2004, he was executive director at the Ithaca Housing Authority, which has 341 units and 24 employees. In between his posts in Ithaca and Baltimore, he was an independent consultant for a year, Williams said.

Goewey has been executive director of the Watertown Housing Authority the past five years. Watertown's authority -- with 674 units, 33 employees, and no Section 8 program -- is much smaller than Buffalo's, which has 4,500 units and 245 employees. Goewey said he's undaunted by that. Under the new HUD-mandated management program, he pointed out, BMHA developments will be divided into new clusters of units comparable in size to those he's managing now in Watertown.

The new director is expected to lead the agency into a completely new way of doing business. HUD ruled last year that all housing authorities must convert from general management to asset-based management. Instead of operating under the housing authority umbrella, individual and grouped dwellings will operate as separate private properties with their own budgets, maintenance departments and managers.

April 1 begins a three-month trial, and the HUD deadline to have operations fully up and running is July 1, said Modesto Candelario, assistant executive director who has been overseeing the transition with Brown. If the conversion is unsuccessful, the BMHA could lose several million dollars from HUD, its primary funding source.

"This is a project-based budget, which is how private sectors do it to know what properties aren't doing well," Candelario said. "The BMHA central office becomes a management company and each [development grouping] becomes a separate client that must function like a private development."

Another challenge facing the new director is cleaning up the authority's image. A scathing 2005 HUD report found evidence of incompetence, a governing board run amok, intimidation of employees, huge cell phone bills and other evidence of misusing anti-poverty funds. BMHA officials have implemented policies to end the abuses and cleared up all of the 30 HUD findings, except for the hiring of an executive director.

Only one member of the troubled board -- Charles J. Flynn, who was appointed by then-Mayor Anthony M. Masiello -- remains. His term expires next year. The other six either resigned after the HUD audit, did not seek re-election or lost a re-election bid.

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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