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Lackawanna Housing Authority tenant council votes to remove president from office

Residents of a Lackawanna Municipal Housing Authority complex have voted to remove the president of the tenant-run Baker Homes Tenant Council.

The move follows an audit that called into question the council’s use of a debit card for dozens of “suspicious” cash withdrawals and purchases with federal tax dollars.

The president, David Hardy, who had primary access to the ATM card and tenant council bank accounts, was removed during a tenant vote Saturday at the Resource Center of the Housing Authority. The vote was 17-1 to remove him from the office.

Hardy did not attend the special meeting where the vote was held. He could not be reached to comment.

Latonda M. Brown, the tenant council’s vice president, was named to succeed Hardy, as per the council’s bylaws.

Hardy also serves on the Housing Authority’s board of commissioners, in one of the boards’s two tenant-elected posts.

Hardy acknowledged in a December interview with The Buffalo News that he withdrew cash in small amounts to pay a resident who cleaned the tenant council office.

Hardy said that he paid in cash because the cleaner did not have a checking account but that none of the payments was properly recorded.

Hardy also acknowledged buying a $100 ticket to a National Basketball Association playoff game May 21, 2013, between the Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies in San Antonio – an ineligible expense under regulations for use of tenant-participation funds, which are provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. He was in San Antonio for a national conference of housing authority commissioners and administrators.

“He was wrong as two left shoes. He had no business messing with the money,” said Laverne Ware, a resident of Baker Homes and former president of the tenant council.

But Ware contended that the management and workers of the Lackawanna Municipal Housing Authority have long mismanaged and wasted far more money than the few thousand dollars that Hardy handled as tenant council president.

She credited Hardy, also a frequent critic of Housing Authority management, with helping tenants in other ways.

“I think he’s a person who got things done,” Ware said. “He rattled cages and stepped on toes.”

None of the other members of the Baker Homes Tenant Council was removed.

Last summer, the Housing Authority conducted an internal audit of the council. An accountant who reviewed the audit expressed concern about “apparent abuse” and described the numerous debit card withdrawals of small amounts as “signs of fraudulent activities.”

While board members of the Baker Homes Tenant Council had access in 2012 and 2013 to about $7,500, HUD awarded the council a special grant of $211,080 in September for education, job training, job placement, and computer and financial literacy for residents.

A HUD spokesman said the federal agency will closely monitor how the tenant-run group spends the grant.