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BMHA has new board that will review a $4.2 million question

The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority — which serves 10,000 residents — has a new board to oversee the agency.

And one of the first things it'll likely do is figure out if the housing authority owes the city $4.2 million.

The Common Council approved four appointments Mayor Byron W. Brown made to the housing authority board of commissioners on Tuesday, thereby creating a new majority on the seven-member board.

The vote was unanimous, with no objections voiced by any of the nine council members.

But, standing in the back of the council chambers, a spokesman for City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder, who is running against Brown in the Democratic primary for mayor, said the appointments were pushed through too quickly.

“The Common Council has a process, through its committee meetings, for the public to weigh in on important issues," said Schroeder spokesman Patrick Curry. "That process is being circumvented, and the 10,000 public housing residents are the ones who suffer, along with the taxpayers, who fund the housing authority’s $40 million budget.”

Brown announced his new appointments Monday, asking the council to approve them at Tuesday's meeting — the last session before city lawmakers go on their annual August break — and forego the usual process of sending mayoral appointments to committee for review.

Brown revamps BMHA board, brings in advisers, keeps executive director

The new board is scheduled to meet on Aug. 10.

"This swift action demonstrated that the Council shares my administration's determination to position the housing authority to immediately seize every opportunity to provide its residents with high quality public housing," Brown said in a written statement, after Tuesday's vote.

The new commissioners are: David Rodriguez, a former city and housing authority attorney; Nona B. Watson, executive director of the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency; David J. State, attorney for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority; and Rishawn T. Sinubi, an architect who is deputy commissioner of the city's public works department.

The council also referred Tuesday to one of its committees the comptroller's claim that the housing authority owes the city $4.2 million, much of that covering gas and water bill payments for Marine Drive apartments.

When the issue was raised last year, the housing authority argued it wasn't responsible for most of the debt because of a 55-year-old agreement that required the city cover operating deficits incurred at Marine Drive.

The issue was then referred to the city attorney's office, and earlier this month, a city attorney told lawmakers the housing authority management is not disputing that it owes the city money. The housing agency doesn't have the funds available to pay the city, but is considering selling off assets, the attorney said.

When asked about the issue by The News on Tuesday, housing authority officials did not concede owing the city $4.2 million.

“We have had ongoing discussion with the city, and now the new board will be evaluating all financial matters, including this issue," said Modesto Candelario, the housing authority's assistant executive director, in a written statement. "We will continue to work cooperatively with the city to develop a mutually agreeable path forward with respect to any amounts due and owing.”

The council is asking the housing authority officials to come to City Hall to discuss the issue.

"If they owed the city taxpayers money, they should pay the city taxpayers back," said Richard A. Fontana, a Lovejoy councilman and chair of the council's finance committee.

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