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Inspectors find health, safety issues at Towne Gardens complex

Inspectors hired by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development went through about 8 percent of the units at the Towne Gardens housing complex in August and found 33 health and safety deficiencies in just 25 apartments.

That number could be just the tip of the iceberg. A report detailing the HUD findings estimates that, if inspectors could examine every building and all 300-plus units, they would uncover 355 health and safety problems – a serious issue for the residents, many of whom are elderly, disabled or both.

The inspection results are the latest troubling evidence that little progress is being made at the aging complex at Clinton Street and Jefferson Avenue.

The City of Buffalo this spring cited the property’s out-of-town owners, Brooklyn-based Towne Gardens LLC, with five building code violations and noted that it had a list of close to 100 more items in need of attention. Because many residents receive federal housing assistance, they also complained to HUD and U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who worked with the department to move up its scheduled inspection by one year.

The case was back before Housing Court Judge Patrick M. Carney on Thursday, but only briefly. The owners of Towne Gardens now are taking time to decide whether to contest the HUD report and the mediocre ranking it received. Properties are graded on a range of 1 to 100 through a Real Estate Assessment Center assessment. Anything above 90 is considered acceptable. Towne Gardens received a “79c,” with the “c” indicating at least one life-threatening problem was found.

The owners have until early October to contest the HUD findings. Rashied H. McDuffie, assistant corporation counsel for the city and the only attorney in court for the case, said his office would prefer to wait until the HUD process is complete before moving forward with its prosecution of any remaining violations.

There were no representatives of the property owners in court Thursday. At the last court appearance, their attorney said that much progress had been made in resolving the violations, but residents who were in Carney’s court Thursday disagreed. While agreeing that some outside lighting had been repaired, they continue to be frustrated with the ongoing lack of maintenance that leads to a host of small and large problems that, cumulatively, degrade their quality of life.

They said they are asked to sign forms acknowledging that work was done before it is completed, “and then they never come back and finish,” one resident said.

Communication with the property’s management remains strained, they said, an issue also cited by HUD. McDuffie said that HUD’s management review came back as “unsatisfactory,” with particular problems involving paperwork, oversight and relationships with tenants.

The health and safety deficiencies cited by HUD are perhaps 30 percent of the problems cited. Along with the nonfunctioning smoke detectors, broken windows and damaged door locks, there are sagging gutters, sinks and tubs without stoppers, leaky pipes, rotting roofs and rooms that have no doors. HUD found repeated problems of accessibility and a host of windows with missing or punctured screens.

Towne Gardens residents are now marking their calendars for their next day in court, Oct. 15.