Buffalo’s biggest landlord – the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority – has cut its staff of housing managers nearly in half, doubling the workload of most and forcing even some of the largest complexes to now share a manager.
The reorganization has some of the authority’s 10,000 residents wondering how the downsizing will affect maintenance and other services.
“For me, I haven’t had a problem. [But] people do come by and speak to me, and I have heard people complain about going to the office and not getting what they should. People have had problems with getting work orders,” said Irene Rachel Williams, vice president of the Commodore Perry tenant council. She added that she hasn’t seen any difference in the level of service.
Authority officials said they have been analyzing operations for “some time” and that cutting the number of managers from 11 to six – five in the field and one assigned to authority headquarters on Perry Street – is an “efficient way of managing.”
There will be no reduction in services to residents, and the change will not affect the current budget, said Modesto Candelario, authority assistant executive director. The money saved will go back into equipment and services, officials said.
But union leaders say reducing the number of housing managers could adversely affect response time for work orders and the quality of work. “It’s a recipe for disaster. It won’t work. There’s only so much work you can do on a given day. There will be developments that will not have the same services they had a month ago, and some services are clearly going to suffer,” said William Travis, president of Local 264, AFSCME AFL-CIO, which represents the workers.
“Then residents will start screaming, and [the Housing Authority] will start telling us the managers are not doing their job,” he added.
The employees in the five positions that were eliminated last month had been working on a provisional basis since May. They will go back to their old jobs with the authority. At the same time, support staff for each housing manager will be increased. Five teams have been created and will be spearheaded by a housing manager.
“There will not be a housing manager there every day, but there will be a body there, and that will be a housing aide or some other clerical support staff,” Candelario said. “In some cases, some of the management offices” will have more coverage, he said. For instance, “a manager used to go to Lyndon B. Johnson two days a week. Now a housing aide is there five days a week,” he said.
But Travis said some tasks, such as “rent agreements and evictions,” fall outside the duties of housing aides. “I don’t think it’s good business to ask five people to do the same work done by 11. Obviously you’re not going to get the same quality and quantity. Now you have approximately 4,800 units being serviced by five managers as opposed to the 11 we had,” he said.
Another issue is that the manager assigned to central office will now fill in when one of the other five is on vacation or out for other reasons. Travis said that contradicts an authority proposal, ratified by the union, to have a housing aide fill in and get a pay upgrade if the temporary assignment lasts beyond two weeks. The rationale, he said, was that the aide was more familiar with what was going on in the complex than someone not there every day.
The reduction in housing managers also may reduce the amount of money the authority receives annually from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development if it results in the authority scoring worse on a HUD rating scale that includes turnaround times and quality of service, Travis warned.
“We do evaluate [housing authorities] on an annual basis on ... how effective and efficient they are in turning around and re-renting apartments,” said Joan Spillman, local HUD director. “But we don’t get involved in” the specifics of how the authority operates.
Candelario said he understands Travis is “trying to protect bodies,” but as far as HUD funding goes, “we don’t believe this will have an impact on that.”
“We feel this is the right time to restructure the operations and reduce the administrative overhead and try to put more services directly to residents,” Candelario said.