Things are looking up for the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority and deservedly so.
BMHA dug itself out of a HUD rating abyss to recently receive one of the best evaluations in years. Things are hardly perfect, but like improving student performances, this is a game of inches. Time and effort by the entire staff and leadership, along with city and state assistance, has moved the ball.
For that effort, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded BMHA a Public Housing Assessment System score of 62, up from 54 in 2018. It may not sound like much, but it’s an notable improvement.
A score below 60 is considered “troubled,” HUD’s lowest assessment category. A score of at least 70 is standard.
Still, it is tough for BMHA to boast about a rating of “substandard.” But HUD’s rating is such: High performer, standard performer, substandard physical or substandard management and troubled. Troubled is obviously very bad. BMHA was at risk the last couple of years. Troubled status puts an agency vulnerable to receivership and, as BMHA Executive Director Gillian D. Brown said, “it’s not a club you want to belong to.”
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It would have been unrealistic to think that BMHA would have gone from “troubled” to “standard performer” in the five years Brown has been executive director. He is proud of the staff and what they have accomplished, while acknowledging the work to be done. It has been a long haul.
BMHA’s Public Housing Assessment System scores – a HUD report card – had been dropping precipitously over the past several years. Brown became executive director in October 2018. The scores, always delayed, were down to 54. The one mandate Brown had was to pull up the scores but being designated below 60 for two years puts an agency in the “troubled” category. And that is what happened. BMHA officials had to sign a “Troubled Agency Recovery Agreement” which had some 16 benchmarks. The authority completed each one. It’s improving.
BMHA has streamlined its procurement system; added staff to finance; ramped up its accounting and finance departments; and bolstered and fully staffed the modernization department, including three registered architects.
The BMHA is engaged in more work today than in the past 10 or 15 years, with a focus on the physical condition of the properties. New bathrooms and kitchens are being installed at L.B.J. and Monsignor Geary Apartments in South Buffalo. Over the course of five years, BMHA has put in about $5 million at Langfield-Kenfield.
One of the reasons progress is slow is because the housing is some of the oldest in New York. But Commodore Perry’s occupancy rate will increase when BMHA demolishes 284 units of vacant housing as part of the transformation into modern apartments. It is part of one of the largest redevelopment efforts in the city’s history.
Meanwhile, the authority staff of some 145 have been working hard to keep up with HUD’s scoring requirements – avoiding overgrown weeds at the fence line, missing panels of siding, etc.
BMHA has made progress and, by pushing, Brown believes the authority can be a standard performer in a year or two. Will it happen? The authority’s doubters have less reason today for their well earned skepticism.
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