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Buffalo Common Council to vote on Housing Authority request for additional $250,000

The Common Council is set to vote Tuesday on giving an additional $250,000 to the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, despite concerns by the City Comptroller’s Office that the Housing Authority may have more than $3 million in unpaid bills dating as far back as 2005.

The Council’s Finance Committee met Monday with officials from the Housing Authority and the Comptroller’s Office in an effort to determine why the debts have gone unpaid.

The Comptroller’s Office has advised lawmakers that the city should not provide the Housing Authority with any more funding until its debts are settled.

In a March 10 memo to the Council, City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder outlined the authority’s debts. He said the authority owed $1.9 million for bulk natural gas heating of BMHA buildings between 2005 and 2008.

Housing Authority officials Monday blamed poor management by Hutchens-Kissling, a company that had previously managed the Marine Drive Apartments.

Housing officials also said a 55-year-old agreement among the BMHA, the Council, the Buffalo Sewer Authority and the state required that the city provide funding for any operating deficits incurred at Marine Drive.

BMHA officials said Monday that the Housing Authority has already paid $650,000 of $1.1 million for police services that the comptroller had identified was owed to the city by the Housing Authority.

The Comptroller’s Office identified an additional $159,502 in indirect services provided to the BMHA by various city departments between 2009 and 2015.

Housing officials argued that the city was paid $266,000 for those services between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2010, when its contract with the city expired.

“We cannot process payment until a new contract has been negotiated,” BMHA Executive Director Dawn E. Sanders-Garrett wrote in a memo to the Council’s Finance Committee.

Sanders-Garrett said that it would violate federal Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations for the BMHA to process any payment to the city in the absence of a valid contract.

“Additionally, the contract amount needs to meet HUD’s ‘fair and reasonable test,’ ” she said.

Sanders-Garrett said the $250,000 subsidy that the BMHA is seeking from the city is intended to cover operational expenses at the former Frederick Douglass Towers, which is still owned by the Housing Authority but managed by a private limited partnership.

Prior to 2011, she said, the city provided the BMHA with a $550,000 annual subsidy for that development.

Council President Darius G. Pridgen, of the Ellicott District, and University Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt argued that it would be unfair to the low-income tenants at Frederick Douglass for the city to withhold payment of $250,000 until the status of the BMHA’s debts are sorted out.