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Deidre Williams May 18, 2023 Updated May 22, 2023
The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority is “troubled” no more. Instead it is considered “substandard.”
That’s according to BMHA’s most recent Public Housing Assessment System score from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which recently gave BMHA a score of 62, up from 54 in 2018.
A score below 60 is considered "troubled," HUD’s lowest assessment category. A score of at least 70 is standard, said BMHA Executive Director Gillian D. Brown.
“The most important takeaway ... is that we’re not in troubled status, and that’s a big deal,” Brown said. “So we’re no longer in danger of receivership. We checked off every box on our 16-point recovery plan. We did a lot of work.”
Brown said he received Friday a congratulatory email from Jacqueline Molinaro-Thompson, director of HUD’s Pittsburgh-Buffalo Office, notifying BMHA of the upgrade.
“When you get an email from HUD and it has the words congratulations in it you must be doing something right,” Brown said.
HUD did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
“What drives our scores down is the physical condition of the developments, and the reason for that is because we have virtually if not the oldest, then nearly the oldest public housing stock in the state. It’s real dilapidated. It’s real hard to maintain,” Brown said. “But for the physical condition, I think we’d be well above a 62.”
BMHA’s troubled ranking in 2018 was held by less than 3% of the 1,800 housing authorities HUD scored during a one-year period.
“There aren’t many authorities in the country that are designated troubled,” Brown said.
The score impacts the way creditors and developers view the authority, Brown said, and the authority could have lost funding from the federal government.
What helped BMHA up its score to 62 was improving efficiencies and making sure the agency's departments have the staffing and resources they need, Brown said.
“We’ve staffed up in various departments,” he added. “Our modernization department now has a director and two architects. We’ve got more accountants on staff. We have more financial staff. We have more and better trained staff in our modernization department. We have staffed up the management department, so we now have a director of management and two asset managers under her. We’re hiring a lot of housing aids. We’re trying real hard to make sure that the departments get the staffing and the sourcing they need so that they can focus on these scores.”
But the physical condition of BMHA properties is still the big problem for the authority, Brown said. “Most of the units, even the ones that are in decent shape, are hard to rent for one reason or another. They’re either three-story walk-ups, or the units are too small, or they don’t have a lot of closets. Perry was built in the late '30s, early '40s. It’s sort of insane when you think about it because these were built for very different standards back then.”
BMHA properties like the Commodore Perry development and A.D. Price Courts complex have been vacant for years and count against BMHA’s vacancy rate. They count as vacant, Brown said.
“If you add up the vacant units at A.D. Price and the vacant units at Perry, that alone equals 10% of our housing stock,” Brown said. “Ten percent of our units are in need of demolition.”
Going forward, there is a continued push to get abandoned units demolished and lower the agency’s vacancy rate.
The boarded-up brick buildings of the Commodore Perry apartments are poised to come down, set to give way to more modern apartments that would transform the public housing project in one of the biggest redevelopment efforts in the city's history.
The multiyear effort – expected to cost well over $300 million – was announced last September and will radically transform a 10-block area of aging structures stretching from Chicago to Hamburg streets and from the Niagara Thruway to South Park Avenue.
Demolition plans for the 170 vacant units that comprise A.D. Price Courts are on hold, Brown said.
After the 54 score from 2018, HUD put on-site inspections and reviews on hold for fiscal years ending in 2019 through 2021 due to the Covid pandemic.
The current fiscal year ends June 30, but HUD hasn’t “even done the new inspections yet,” Brown said.
“HUD is very, very behind,” he added. “We won’t get fiscal year ending 2023 scores for probably another 10 months just like all the other housing authorities.”
But more likely than not, the public housing assessment system will be replaced for the coming year with a different method of grading housing authorities, called NSPRE, Brown said. The new system will make significant changes to the inspections of each housing authority’s properties.
Brown said he’s been informed the new scoring system focuses more on the interior of the units, which should bode well for BMHA along with getting vacant buildings off the vacancy rolls.
“It is my intention to make sure that our staff are well-trained on NSPIRE inspections, so that we can maintain the upward trend of our scores,” Brown said.