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Housing Authority can keep managing site, judge says

The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority can continue to manage the Marine Drive Apartments, a judge has ruled.

But the battle over operation of the downtown waterfront apartment complex is not over, said Ralph Lorigo, an attorney representing the Resident Council of Marine Drive, which sued the authority.

State Supreme Court Justice Donna M. Siwek's decision Friday to deny the council's request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting the authority from managing the property has no bearing on the lawsuit, as Siwek has not ruled yet on the validity of a 2004 contractual agreement between the authority and council and the interpretation of it, Lorigo said.

"It's a procedural win for BMHA, I guess. But they haven't won the lawsuit," he said. "All she's ruled on is the preliminary injunction. There's been no ruling on the lawsuit."

The tenant council filed the lawsuit in January 2011 claiming the authority violated the agreement that stated it would never seek to manage the property.

While the dispute continues to run its course through the court system, authority officials maintain their agency is the best choice to manage Marine Drive.

"The advantages of BMHA management are clear, including not having to pay an outside, third-party management company to do what we do at our other 26 developments," said authority Executive Director Dawn E. Sanders.

"We have the people. We know the buildings, and we've now managed them successfully for more than a year," she added.

The apartment complex, which sits on 6.4 acres overlooking Erie Canal Harbor, consists of seven 12-story buildings. The tenant council managed the apartments for about 40 years, but in the last decade, management problems arose, including allegations of nepotism and discrimination.

Hutchens Kissling, a private partnership, began running it in 2004 but left in 2007 amid allegations of missing bank records, unreconciled balances and missing rent money under the authority's oversight.

Erie Regional Housing Development Corp. began operating Marine Drive in 2007 but decided in January 2011 not to extend the management contract because of tenant opposition.

That is when Housing Authority officials decided to manage the 616-unit complex and officially took over management on Feb. 1, 2011.

The tenant council then sued the authority, and Siwek asked the two parties to try to resolve the issues, but to no avail. "There were some settlement negotiations that went on for some time," Lorigo said. "BMHA made some promises and concessions at the beginning, but they were not in the eyes of Marine Drive residents anywhere near what they anticipated they would, and negotiations broke down."

In December, Lorigo sought the preliminary injunction.

Ultimately, the resident council wants a resident management corporation to run the apartment complex, or at the very least share the job with a housing management corporation, such as Belmont Housing Resources.