I feel it is important for me to comment on the coverage of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's recent review of operations at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.
For more than 70 years, the BMHA has been working to fulfill its mission to provide "decent, safe and sanitary" housing for persons of low income. Notwithstanding a recent article's contention that the Housing Authority has been "under near-constant criticism for the last 20 years," this authority is fulfilling that mission as well as it ever has.
Our nearly 300 employees constitute one of the most dedicated work forces in this region. We receive no funding from the City of Buffalo, we do not have a deficit (unlike Buffalo and Erie County) and our HUD "report card" scores have been a source of pride to me and to our directors and staff for several years.
Allegations by some that this authority should be taken over by the City of Buffalo are ill-considered and irresponsible. Allegations that this authority is unaccountable or that "the BMHA doesn't want to answer to someone," as one Assembly staffer was quoted as saying, do a disservice to the many fine men and women who actually run this authority.
The authority is audited annually by an independent public accounting firm and monitored by HUD virtually year-round. We are accountable not only to HUD, but also to the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, Buffalo's mayor and Common Council and the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority.
Due to dramatic budget cuts imposed by the federal government over the last few years, the preparation of our 2005-2006 budget was a wrenching and difficult process. However, a balanced budget was submitted that will allow us to add some $75,000 (or more) to our reserves. We have reduced our work force by more than 100 positions over the last few years, and we continue to do more with less, while still maintaining the federally mandated standards of our units.
The recent HUD findings concerning contracting and procurement, while serious, should not be given an importance that the reviewers themselves would deny. There are no allegations of which I have been made aware that contracts were given to companies that did not do the work, or did the work badly. There are no allegations that our staff has misappropriated money, or by their conduct has cost the authority money. We believe that virtually all of the programmatic findings will be resolved by implementation of new procedures to ensure that files are properly maintained, and that when a decision is made concerning a contract, there is sufficient documentation available to justify it.
I cannot comment on the HUD findings concerning the board of commissioners. However, as executive director of this authority, I have confidence that we will do everything in our power to correct shortcomings and fix whatever problems HUD has found, while working to continue to fulfill our mission to provide housing for our city's low-income individuals.
Gillian D. Brown is interim executive director and general counsel of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.