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For the second straight year, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority has earned HUD's highest ranking in an annual review of public housing authorities nationwide.

That status is subject to routine confirmation by the Housing and Urban Development Department.

The authority earned a score of 94 out of a possible 100 on the Public Housing Management Assessment Program certification, retaining its "high performer" status for the 1997-98 fiscal year ending June 30. That tops the agency's 1996-97 score of 91.75 after a confirmatory audit by HUD.

Only two years ago, the agency scored a 75.48 overall rating, which translated into a "standard performer" ranking.

The agency's scores for this year actually improved in two performance categories. The authority was able to score three points higher -- from a score of 14 last year to a 17 out of a maximum 20 points this year -- in the category that tracks the number of vacancies and the "turnaround time" in renting apartments.

The slightly higher score resulted from the authority's being able to compensate for the glut of private senior citizen housing available in the city and the resultant increase in competition for the authority, according to Executive Director Sharon L. West.

The authority's score in resident services program also improved from an 8.5 last year to the highest allowable score of 10 this year.

Initially, two of five voting commissioners on the board abstained from confirming the management assessment score finding. Tenant representative Mary Rogers took exception to a perfect 10 scoring for completing work orders on time. She pointed to anecdotal evidence from tenants she had talked to that indicated many work orders took longer to fill than the assessment report indicates.

However, when she was advised by Vincent Barrile, auditor for the authority, that the lack of a two-thirds majority vote would delay approval of the assessment certification beyond the July 29 submission date, she rescinded her abstention and voted for approval. This was done over the objection of Commissioner Donald Ort, the other abstaining board member.

After conferring with Gillian Brown, counsel for the authority, board Chairman Modesto Candelario took a roll-call vote, and the item was passed with four approvals and one abstention.

Ms. West said the whole system of scoring is slated to change next year and include a physical inspection of the authority's facilities by HUD and a survey of public housing residents.

In another matter, the board, after meeting in executive session, agreed to impose an immediate hiring freeze. This comes after a recent order by HUD to cut 169 jobs, or 43 percent of its non-public safety staff.

Ms. West said she will be prepared to offer recommendations for trimming the staff when the board reconvenes for a special meeting at 10 a.m. Sept. 9.

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