Executive Director Dawn Sanders-Garrett is not the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority's only frequent traveler.
The Buffalo News' review of BMHA travel documents found 115 trips taken from Jan. 1, 2013 through Dec. 31, 2016.
The trips – to conferences, training sessions and meetings – had a total price tag of just over $120,000, the review found.
During a four-year period from 2013 through 2016, Sanders-Garrett took 34 trips to conferences and meetings sponsored by housing industry organizations. She said the trips, which cost about $27,000 over the four years, helped her gather information and resources that benefit tenants. But some tenant leaders criticize her travel schedule, saying the frequent absences contribute to a lack of direction at the troubled authority and that residents suffer as a result.
But Sanders-Garrett is not the only BMHA official who travels. In addition to her 34 trips, other BMHA travelers include:
* Modesto Candelario, the BMHA’s assistant executive director, took 20 trips in the past four years – half of them to conferences or meetings that Sanders-Garrett also attended. The total cost to the BMHA of his travel: under $15,000.
Much of Candelario’s travel was to sessions sponsored by HAI Group, the BMHA’s insurance organization. Like Sanders-Garrett, he sits on one of the HAI policy committees.
HAI Group picks up virtually all travel costs incurred by housing officials serving on HAI committees.
* Anthony Laulette, a BMHA manager, attended 15 out-of-town meetings and conferences, mostly in 2013 and 2014. His travel was the most expensive, totaling almost $30,000. Part of his expenses were for classes, as he was being trained for a bigger leadership role at the BMHA.
* Tenant leaders, whose last BMHA-financed trip was in 2013, when a dozen tenants traveled with two members of the BMHA staff to a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Among those traveling with the group was Sam Smith, the Stuyvesant senior apartments tenant leader critical of Sanders-Garrett's heavy travel schedule. Smith said the 2013 conference provided valuable information for tenant leaders who try to develop programs for their individual buildings, and work with BMHA officials on agency-wide issues.
The total cost of the four-day trip for the group was about $18,600 with the biggest expense being the $11,000 hotel bill from the $250-a-night Omni Shoreham Hotel, the travel vouchers show.
* Two tenant-elected BMHA commissioners and two others appointed by Mayor Byron W. Brown each attended one or two conferences in 2016.
Three commissioners attended a conference in New Orleans in 2016. Four went to a commissioner training session in Tampa.
The total cost of the two trips was just over $10,600, Sanders-Garrett said.
Leonard Williams, one of the tenant-elected commissioners who attended, said conferences provide commissioners training on budgeting, ethics and federal Department of Housing and Urban Development programs and guidelines.
The travel comes as HUD has labeled the BMHA a "sub-standard" housing authority for three consecutive years. But Sanders-Garrett said the conferences and meetings have helped the authority secure or save at least $18 million in funds used to fix up the grounds and facilities at the 29 complexes serving some 10,000 public housing tenants.
Story topics: sidebar