Mayor Byron W. Brown's plan for Buffalo's public housing agency goes beyond appointing new board members, and includes bringing in what amounts to financial and housing development gurus to help reform the struggling agency.
Gary M. Crosby, a former Buffalo city schools chief financial officer and former president of First Niagara Bank, has agreed to advise the BMHA on a volunteer basis regarding financial issues.
And Michael Clarke, a BMHA executive director in the early 1990s, who has headed up a local low-income housing investment organization - Local Initiatives Support Corp.- for the past 20 years, has agreed to serve in a similar capacity on housing development issues.
"The BMHA is a critical support net for our city's low-income residents," Crosby said in a prepared statement. "I appreciate the difficult task the authority has, given budgetary constraints, but I'm very hopeful there are creative solutions to help fulfill its important mission."
"From my daily experience at LISC, I'm well aware of the fast-evolving landscape of affordable and public housing," Clarke added.
The two unpaid advisers are part of the new BMHA team Brown is proposing to address the myriad problems the housing agency is facing as well as concerns that the agency may not be prepared to adjust to further funding cuts threatened from Washington.
Brown also announced Monday that he's replacing a majority of the members on the BMHA board of commissioners, though the agency's executive director will remain in her post.
Out are longtime BMHA Board Chairman Michael A. Seaman, who is the city treasurer, as well as two other board members, former Deputy Mayor Donna M. Brown and Stanley Fernandez, a retired city and BMHA employee.
Replacing them are:
- Rishawn T. Sonubi, an architect who is deputy commissioner for the city's Department of Public Works;
- David J. State, the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority attorney; and
- Nona B. Watson, executive director of the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency.
Brown also appointed David Rodriguez to fill a board position that's been vacant since former SUNY Buffalo State administrator Hal D. Payne resigned from the board of commissioners earlier this year. Rodriguez is a former city and BMHA attorney now working for Hispanics United as its housing director. He'll likely replace Seaman as BMHA chairman, according to several sources familiar with the board.
The four new members would join a fifth mayoral appointee already on the board, Pastor Alan Core, who grew up in public housing. He is not being replaced. The other members of the seven-member BMHA board, Leonard Williams and Robin Edwards, are tenant-elected commissioners.
"The current climate of reduced federal dollars combined with the growing number of public/private development options make it necessary for the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority to have the ability to proactively seize new opportunities on behalf of BMHA residents," Brown said. "We are going to have to be more innovative. We are going to have to be more creative."
A new board of commissioners, along with the volunteer advisers, he said, will be looking at ways to improve the day-to-day operation of the BMHA, as well as ways to bring in more funding, and to find new ways to modernize the Housing Authority.
There are no plans, he said, to replace the current BMHA executive director, Dawn Sanders-Garrett.
"Ms. Sanders is expected to continue as the executive director of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority," Brown said.
Mayoral appointees to the BMHA board serve five-year, staggered terms. The new appointees will fill the remaining terms of the outgoing members, which range from a few months to four years.
The Common Council is expected to approve the four new commissioners at its meeting Tuesday. All nine Council members attended Brown's press conference when the appointments were announced Monday, indicating their support for the new appointments.
"The BMHA has challenges," said Council President Darius G. Pridgen. "This is important, to make changes, whatever those changes may be."
But Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder, who is going up against Brown in the September mayoral primary, was skeptical.
"Fifty days to go before the primary and the mayor is now restructuring the BMHA, when he has been in charge for 12 years?" Schroeder asked, adding: "It's amazing."
If elected, Schroeder said, he would conduct a thorough review of the BMHA to determine why the agency isn't doing a better job maintaining its 27 developments, and serving its 10,000 residents.
The Buffalo News has reported on problems throughout the city's public housing that include hundreds of run-down and vacant apartments at the Commodore Perry development; vacant, dilapidated units that have resulted in neighborhood blight around the A.D. Price Courts; and deteriorating conditions at the Marine Drive apartments.
In addition, Sanders-Garrett has faced criticism for the time she spends away from Buffalo, routinely travelling out-of-state to attend public housing conferences that she says benefit the agency, but that critics say leave the BMHA without adequate leadership.
Sanders-Garrett has blamed inadequate federal funding for most of the agency's problems. And while she's expressed optimism lately that the agency will be able to secure some additional housing funds from the state, she's also expressed concern that federal public housing funds could be further cut by the Trump administration.