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Editorial: With Brown taking the reins, troubled BMHA needs a turnaround

When an agency as troubled as the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority hires an insider as its chief, it can play out one of two ways. Some insiders are part of the problem and fix nothing. Others know where the bodies are buried and make improvements happen faster.

It is too early to be sure, but there are reasons to be hopeful that Gillian Brown, named executive director of the BMHA last week, can make improvements happen faster.

Brown is on his second tour with the authority. In the early 2000s, he was BHMA attorney and briefly interim director. Last November he came back as authority attorney and a few months later again became interim director. He has spent half his career at the housing authority.

The BMHA is a mess. The authority manages housing for 10,000 residents and has a $40 million annual budget. Resident complaints range from bedbugs to mold to leaky ceilings, poor heating and delays in getting simple items repaired. Many units get a “substandard” rating from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

And the authority is careless about spending money. A July watchdog report by The News’ Susan Schulman revealed questionable bidding practices. Another Schulman report found the BMHA too often overpaid for supplies.

Since being named interim executive director in mid-March after Dawn Sanders-Garrett resigned, Brown has been open about the problems and forthright about tackling them.

He started addressing long-deferred maintenance issues at many developments, including Kenfield-Langfield, which flunked its 2018 federal inspection with the lowest score given to any BMHA development in the past five years. He hired an asset manager. He hired new housing managers. He negotiated a new contract with the housing authority’s union.

Brown has worked closely with two executive directors and watched the tenure of each unravel in a piercing and public manner. He knows the issues, players and problems. He knows that there are landmines ahead.

But he takes over with a reservoir of goodwill from the people working at the authority and in the community. Here's hoping he is the right person for a very tough job.

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