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HOUSING AUTHORITY SETS MARKETING BLITZ BOARD SEEKS BIDS FROM FIRMS TO PORTRAY POSITIVE IMAGE OF AGENCY

The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority is preparing to start its first professional marketing campaign, despite complaints the agency can't handle the current demand for its apartments.

The authority board has voted to allow housing officials to seek bids from marketing firms for a one-year campaign that would include videos, radio spots and efforts to plant positive publicity in the local and national press.

"We've never taken an aggressive approach to marketing," said Charles J. Priore, director of occupancy and marketing. "This also will be the key to success of continuing our occupancy."

The authority has set aside $50,000 to $70,000 from its operations budget for the campaign.

The letter to prospective marketing firms says, The "BMHA faces fierce competition in the open market. The strategy is to market our product . . . to aggressively approach the community and seek out those needing low-income rental units."

Executive Director Lawrence A. Grisanti described the market for public housing as soft and said the authority has to become more competitive.

"Years ago, people were told to just get in line," Grisanti said. "Public housing wasn't being marketed."

He added that other authorities around the country, including Boston, are stepping up their marketing efforts.

"Boston has a briefing room and it shows a movie of the history of the authority," Grisanti said.

Not all attending the Wednesday's housing authority meeting were enthusiastic about the idea. Richard Kern of the National Association of Social Workers was forced to leave the meeting by two security workers after he began speaking out against the plan.

"I was so troubled about the ludicrousness of having a marketing professional when people we do advocacy for are told their are no apartments available," Kern said.

Board member Mary Rogers also said the authority should focus its attention on readying vacant apartments for rent. Currently, about 28 percent of the authority's apartments -- about 1,700 apartments -- are vacant.

"I can't see a consultant telling people how to run their departments," Mrs. Rogers said. "It's a matter of getting paperwork finished and opening these apartments."

But Priore said the marketing plan is expected to attract more qualified applicants to housing developments. He also said it should help the authority meet the goals of a voluntary integration plan for Buffalo public housing.

Companies are being asked to present plans that include developing a 10- to 15-minute video of each of the authority's 27 housing sites. They are being asked to prepare videos that do not identify the racial composition of the housing development.

The successful bidder also will be asked to prepare videos that outline the application process, describe the organization of the housing authority and educate tenants about their responsibilities.

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