When Shinda Management Co. wanted to purchase temporary heating systems to replace failing ones for two tenants at the Frederick Douglass I public housing development this winter, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority said no.
Instead, the BMHA directed Shinda to relocate the tenants because the housing complex will be rehabilitated and the heating systems replaced in April. But the tenants refused to leave.
Now Shinda and Buffalo Common Council members worry the same problems will come up again under the BMHA's plan, especially if a tenant refuses to relocate despite frigid temperatures.
"If we're talking about a tenant's unit going down tomorrow, and if my portfolio doesn't have the right bedroom size and they don't want to go to a hotel, we'll be stuck in the same position. That's not a good thing," said Lisa Walker, executive director of Shinda, which manages the BMHA's Frederick Douglass and A.D. Price housing developments.
Shinda and BMHA officials were called before the Common Council's Community Development Committee on Tuesday as lawmakers began probing how they respond to tenant complaints, particularly relating to no heat and hot water in the middle of winter.
A.D. Price residents also have complained to The Buffalo News about bed bugs, roaches, non-working emergency response cords and other problems at their development, also managed by Shinda, but those issues are expected to be taken up at a subsequent committee meeting.
The problems of no heat and hot water at some Frederick Douglass I units stem from antiquated heating systems that cannot be repaired and need to be replaced, Shinda and BMHA representatives said Tuesday.
The issue first arose in December, when Shinda requested authorization from the BMHA to purchase a replacement heating system for a housing unit on Jefferson Avenue in Frederick Douglass I, Walker said. Shinda is required to get BMHA approval for expenditures over $5,000, and the replacement heating system would have exceeded that threshold.
The BMHA rejected the request and directed Shinda to relocate any tenants there with heating systems that couldn't be fixed to other apartments or to a hotel, said Modesto Candelario, BMHA's assistant executive director for finance and development.
But vacant units at Frederick Douglass I did not have working heating systems and the tenant refused to move into a hotel, Walker said. So Shinda was directed to perform wellness checks on the tenant and to begin eviction proceedings to force the tenant to relocate.
Then on Jan. 12, maintenance staff was unable to fix a different antiquated heating system at Frederick Douglass I, and Shinda representatives offered the resident hotel accommodations that evening, but that resident also decided to stay, said Shinda Property Manager Donnie Singleton.
"So we provided a heater for the resident. I provided soup and hot chocolate and a protection surge and offered her to go to Frederick Douglass II," Singleton said.
The resident initially agreed to move to the senior towers at Frederick Douglass II the following week, but changed her mind, saying she did not want to move because she was afraid her home would be burglarized. Singleton told her she could not stay in the unit and continued wellness checks that week while trying unsuccessfully to convince her to relocate to a hotel.
Singleton then was able to get a "very discounted price" for a small heating unit that was installed on Jan. 19, but a part broke, knocking out heat again. On Saturday, Jan. 20, the tenant agreed to relocate to her daughter's home for the weekend. The broken part was replaced and the tenant has had continuous heat since then, Shinda said.
But that wasn't good enough for Council President Darius G. Pridgen, who asked Tuesday for clarity on a plan if other heating systems at the housing development break down between now and April.
"So if a unit goes out tomorrow that we can't find a part for, Shinda can go buy one" for under $5,000 "but BMHA would prefer the resident be relocated because the unit has to be redone anyway?" Pridgen asked.
Candelario responded, "Sooner or later the resident has to be relocated, but if a heating system goes now, we prefer that we find a suitable unit for that resident temporarily."
But Walker, Shinda's executive director, expressed concern.
"If someone's heat goes down tomorrow and they don't want to go to a hotel, what will happen? The news outlet will jump on it, and we'll be in the paper again, and we are accustomed to giving our residents heat and hot water consistently," Walker said.
The investigation was tabled until the next committee meeting, and Chairman Joseph Golombek Jr. wants BMHA Executive Director Dawn Sanders-Garrett to attend that session to answer questions.