Buffalo’s largest Hispanic organization can keep two big vacant houses its former executive director tried to sell for a dollar last year, a judge ruled.
Hispanics United of Buffalo sued in State Supreme Court to block the sale to a Whitney Place resident who lives next to the boarded-up houses along Virginia Street on the Lower West Side.
Danny Duff said he signed a deal to take ownership when the organization approached him with the idea amid its financial problems. Duff had planned to renovate one of the houses and tear down the other.
State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski, however, ruled the agreement null and void. Not all of the state’s requirements governing transactions involving a nonprofit organization had been satisfied, Michalski said.
So Duff “has no right - legal, contractual or otherwise - to purchase the property,” Michalski said in a recent decision.
“I was very disappointed,” Duff said of the ruling. “We haven’t seen the judge’s decision yet. Once we see it, we’ll have someone look it over to see if it’s worthy of an appeal.”
Hispanics United received the property as a gift three years ago but has not performed any major repairs to the houses.
Duff calls one of the houses “a total disaster” that would cost too much to repair. He said it has not been lived in for the 12 years he has lived near it. He has called city inspectors to report housing code violations.
The other house has deteriorated as well, he said.
Eugenio Russi, a board member and treasurer of Hispanics United, said a feasibility study will guide the organization’s plans for the property.
”We intend to be a good neighbor and keep the property clean and move towards getting the property redone as quickly as possible,” Russi said. “We’ll do something with the property. We’re not going to let it sit there.”
The study will help the board decide whether to renovate the buildings or knock down one or both of the them and build a new structure, he said.
Hispanics United officials have previously talked about refurbishing the two three-bedroom houses for transitional housing or for other services for domestic violence victims, the elderly or other disadvantaged members of the community.
The property is a block from the organization’s Virginia Street offices.
Duff and Lourdes Iglesias signed a purchase agreement in March 2012. At the time, Iglesias was the organization’s executive director. Iglesias has said she moved to unload the houses, with the support of her board, because the organization could not afford to renovate them or pay Housing Court fines.
But several months later, the fortunes of Hispanics United brightened. In August, it became an affiliate of the Acacia Network, a Bronx organization and the largest Latino nonprofit in the Northeast providing health and social services, housing and economic development programs.
With Acacia’s backing, the organization’s new leadership decided to keep the two houses at Whitney Place and Virginia Street.
But first it had to go to court to nullify the purchase agreement.
The feasibility study could take weeks or months, Russi said.
“We want to do the best we can for the neighborhood,” he said. “In the meantime, we’ll make sure the property is kept clean and maintained to the best of our ability.”