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Dilapidated homes ordered secured

A judge ordered crews Wednesday to board up unsecured doors and windows at four vacant properties owned by a not-for-profit group that a Buffalo control board member operates.

Housing Court Judge Henry Nowak expressed concern that violations at properties on the 1500 block of Michigan Avenue haven't been remedied quickly enough.

The Rev. Richard A. Stenhouse, secretary-treasurer of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, heads the Bethel Community Development Corp. Stenhouse was out of town and did not attend Wednesday's court proceeding.

Nowak told the group's executive director that Stenhouse, his lawyer or an officer of Bethel CDC must attend a hearing next Wednesday to enter a plea.

City inspectors have pinpointed more than two dozen code violations at the properties, including broken windows, rotting roofs, missing steps, loose railings and deteriorating walls. David Torke, a Woodlawn Avenue block club leader, presented photographs to Nowak showing what Torke described as conditions that pose safety risks.

Nowak said he would instruct city crews to board up open entrances, then bill the group for the work. This is a common practice in the city. The judge added that if Bethel CDC can get the work done before the city shows up, it might save some expenses.

The four properties on Michigan between East Ferry Street and Woodlawn Avenue were cited for Housing Court in February. Wednesday was the second time this year the court had reviewed the cases, Nowak said.

"The reports don't show any progress on the properties at all," Nowak said.

After a brief court appearance, Ben Upshaw, executive director of Bethel CDC, said the group's track record is laudable.

"We've built 43 homes in the Cold Spring area," he said. "We've also built a retail plaza on Jefferson Avenue."

The group has had plans since 2004 to demolish the Michigan Avenue properties and build row houses. But Upshaw said problems in securing state and city money delayed the project. Still, he predicted private funds would be secured within 90 days to tear down the houses.

Stenhouse, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, has served on the city's control board for more than three years.

Brian J. Lipke, who resigned Wednesday as control board chairman, said he didn't have enough information to comment on the Housing Court case.

"But Rev. Stenhouse has been an outstanding board member who has made great contributions to the city," Lipke said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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