It’s going to take a lot to get the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority back on track so that it properly serves residents and community, but the funding idea suggested by a local congressman should help.
Rep. Brian Higgins has made clear his concerns about the Housing Authority’s management practices and the deteriorated housing that pockmarks its inventory. These broken-down residences are an insult to the residents living in and around these buildings.
Here it is, 2019 and the BMHA is dealing with some of the same problems that have existed for decades – an infrastructure desperately in need of repair.
Higgins’ suggestion in a letter to the agency’s head: leverage as much as $150 million in federal money that the Housing Authority qualifies for but has not sought.
The BMHA’s newly minted director, Gillian Brown, indicated he is open to the idea. He even said he has made limited use of one of the programs suggested by the congressman. That’s good. Go further.
According to Higgins, the BMHA could borrow as much as $50 million for capital improvements under one federal program. It could also leverage an additional $100 million under another program available to housing authorities. Brown cautioned that the full $150 million may not be achievable, but he nevertheless agreed that the authority could improve on taking advantage of financing programs available to it.
Brown, who took over in October, may be newly in charge but he spent half his career at the Housing Authority. By all accounts, he has made as strong start, and says he has been working to increase BMHA funding through the two programs Higgins mentioned.
One program the BMHA has not used at all. It allows housing authorities to borrow money for capital improvements using future capital budget funds to pay off the loan.
It falls under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s regulations and Higgins believes the BMHA could borrow as much as $50 million.
Brown wants to start slow with a test run of up to $10 million, possibly to be used to upgrade elevators and kitchens in the agency’s senior high-rise buildings.
This toe-in-the-water approach seems unnecessarily skittish given the enormity of need but, again, the new executive director should have an understanding of what works.
He should move as quickly as diligence allows.
Brown said he is also working to increase the agency’s ability to leverage construction funds under HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program.
That’s helpful, but Higgins is right. The Housing Authority has had a poor history of management, so it should come as no surprise that it failed to make use of resources available to it. That practice should change, immediately.