The open sore that is the deteriorating Commodore Perry Homes is back in the spotlight, this time for the failure to secure vacant apartments. Because these units continue to be heated, they have become a magnet for people seeking warm shelter.
The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority is responsible for this project, located off Perry Street and a few blocks from the authority’s administrative offices and a slew of other public housing units in the city.
Executive Director Dawn E. Sanders-Garrett said the financially stressed Housing Authority has a limited staff to maintain its properties.
Earlier this month, News staff reporter Susan Schulman posted to the web photographs of wide-open units with boards torn off windows and doors and indications that people could be living in the supposedly vacant units. Reaction was swift.
Within hours the mayor contacted the BMHA about the conditions and sent in city crews. He also had his staff contact the Homeless Alliance of Western New York to alert the agency to the possibility people were living in the units. And the police were called to check on the premises.
Because the units are on an antiquated utility loop that provides heat to occupied Perry apartments, many of the vacant apartments remain heated. The BMHA has been trying unsuccessfully to tackle the problem for five years, which was good news only for the homeless seeking a warm place to stay. A new system is finally expected to be installed within a few months, according to Sanders-Garrett.
The failure to secure the apartments is just the latest failure at the Perry Homes. The complex has 740 apartments in high- and low-rise buildings, some built before World War II. Of those about 330 are vacant, in a city without enough housing for low-income tenants. And the habitable apartments are often in disrepair. The Housing Authority has no viable plan for renewing the Perry Homes. Indeed, it can’t even keep its dilapidated units boarded up.
Disturbing conditions for the poor are not confined to the city. Amherst is under the spotlight after a Buffalo News article revealed substandard low-income housing in 90 percent of the units that federal investigators studied.
An audit detailed widespread electrical hazards and a list of problems from peeling paint to an insect infestation. The town’s Housing Choice program gives low-income residents vouchers to find housing in the town. The Section 8 program in Amherst involves more than 5,630 low-income housing units.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development provided the town with $24.1 million for the program in 2015. Taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth. The inspector general determined that unless improvements are made, the program could spend $9.3 million in federal funds on substandard housing next year.
Amherst Town Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein, in a written response, agreed with most of the audit’s findings and pledged corrective action. That’s good, as was Brown’s swift response at the Perry Homes.
Whether in cities, towns or villages, officials have an enormous responsibility for the welfare of all citizens.