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HUD looking into complaints that BMHA spends too much for outside legal, ignores safety concerns

The Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is looking into complaints that the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority is spending too much on outside legal help, while ignoring safety concerns raised by critics of the BMHA board’s extension of a $650,000 contract with the Buffalo Police Department.

Despite having its own team of in-house lawyers, the authority spends millions on outside lawyers, said Joseph A. Mascia, a tenant representative on the authority’s Board of Commissioners. Those funds, Mascia said, would be better spent beefing up security at BMHA’s 12 housing developments.

“I’m fed up with the money that we’re spending on outside legal counsel when we have the crime that’s going on in the Housing Authority,” Mascia said Thursday.

His sentiments were echoed by Elaine Diallo, a former tenant member of the authority board.

“What it really adds up to is a lack of transparency,” Diallo said.

Marta Rivera Metelko, director of public affairs for the HUD Inspector General’s Office, would not confirm Thursday that an investigation was underway.

However, both Mascia and Diallo said BMHA Executive Director Dawn E. Sanders-Garrett, during a meeting more than a month ago, updated the BMHA board on the investigation.

“The executive director did bring that to our attention, in her report at the meeting, that there were complaints from the Inspector General’s Office concerning spending on outside legal services and the extension of the Buffalo police contract,” Diallo said.

Mascia said that prior to David Rodriguez’s tenure as the BMHA’s chief counsel, spending on outside legal counsel was limited.

“Now, we’ve got millions that we’re paying to one particular law firm, Hodgson Russ and Adam Perry, for outside legal counsel,” Mascia said.

“That money could be spent on a private contractor that does security and make the residents feel more comfortable. All this stuff gets tied in with the police contract, too,” he added.

BMHA disbanded its own on-site security staff nearly a decade ago. When the current contract with the Buffalo Police Department came up for renewal earlier this year, both Mascia and Diallo voted against it. However, it wound up being approved with the votes of the four remaining commissioners – all appointees of Mayor Byron W. Brown, Mascia said.

Mascia and Diallo said the 18-member police unit is stationed at the Commodore Perry Homes and seldom present at the other BMHA locations. As a result, they added, tenants are often forced to rely on help from Buffalo police officers at the district level.

“We’re paying the City of Buffalo $650,000 a year for what? I mean, the police have got to show up, anyway, whether we give them $650,000 or not,” Mascia said.

Diallo said tenants of housing developments other than Commodore Perry feel neglected and unsafe.

“That’s our major concern. The residents feel very unsafe in the big family developments, because there is a lack of on-site security,” she said.

When she was chairwoman of the board’s Safety Committee, Diallo said, her recommendations to hire round-the-clock security at each of the BMHA developments were ignored.

“A whole lot of the crime is coming from nonresidents doing their activities throughout the day and night. … We’re talking about shootings and drug activity that is not welcome. We, as law-abiding citizens who live there do not want that type of activity to be thought of as OK,” Diallo said.