It is genuinely a good thing that leaders of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority cleaned up the disgusting piles of debris that had accumulated up around vacant units at the Commodore Perry Apartments. It may qualify as the least they could do; nevertheless, it needed to be done.
Still, the vermin-attracting heaps of trash weren’t the main issue. They were but a symptom of a larger problem that includes incompetence, failure, neglect and maybe worse. That’s why it was important for Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, to ask for a federal investigation of the BMHA. Residents of the authority’s properties and taxpayers, in general, deserve answers that such an inquiry may help to provide.
It’s telling that the cleanup occurred only after Higgins photographed the mess at the Perry apartments and called for the investigation. That came a day after The News reported on the decrepit condition at many of the BMHA properties, including the Perry apartments and, even worse, the Langfield Homes, the worst ranked in Erie County and in the bottom 3 percent of 374 inspections conducted statewide.
The problems at BMHA have been chronic and severe and, one suspects, we still don’t know what all of them are. It is true the authority may finally be interested in reforming itself. Mayor Byron W. Brown replaced four members of the BMHA board, though troubling signs remain.
For example, earlier this year, the board accepted the resignation of its longtime executive director, Dawn E. Sanders-Garrett. But not only did it purchase her departure with an exorbitant goodbye package – including a $107,250 severance payment and health insurance paid through the end of the year – but the board then worked to keep the package secret from the public. It’s impossible not to wonder: What else is the board trying to hide? Perhaps nothing, but the board did itself no favors with its lack of forthrightness.
Nevertheless, the changes at the BMHA make this an especially good time for the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development to launch an investigation. With the housecleaning at the authority, there is little reason for defensiveness by those who are now in leadership roles. An outside investigation will help to ensure thoroughness, openness and, critically, the follow-up pressure to improve.
Pressure matters. It’s why the debris was cleaned up after Higgins inserted himself and the news reports spread his message. Without it, those unsanitary heaps would still be there, helping to create what Higgins called “a haven for rats and a colony of feral cats.”
It isn’t just that taxpayers have a right to expect the authority to be more careful with the public dollars that built and support the region’s stock of public housing, though that is an important matter. More critical, though, is that humans should not have to live in the midst of such filth. Children shouldn’t be subjected to conditions that threaten their health and safety. No one should be called upon to tolerate what is clearly intolerable.
Too often, and for too many years, that has been the standard at the BMHA. It needs to change. An investigation will help to produce it.