Getting tangled in the red tape of bureaucracy is always frustrating, and much more so when it means watching your house crumbling around you.
This has been the case for too many low-income Buffalo homeowners attempting to tap a loan program that promises help in repairing their homes.
But City Hall’s foot-dragging allowed their dreams to fade. City officials must work harder to solve the problems that have gummed up the works on a program designed to shore up the city’s old housing stock, and not incidentally wiping away some of the blight plaguing neighborhoods.
More than 200 low-income homeowners are waiting for federal loans so they can make repairs. The wait has been as long as two years for some and, during that time, problems such as leaky roofs have only worsened. And now, with the weather turning, the outlook is bleak.
Alma Egan applied nearly two years ago for a loan to repair her roof in the city’s Masten District. Even though the loan was approved and the contractor’s bid accepted, nothing happened. Egan died while the loan was in limbo, where it remains today.
There are other horror stories. Another Masten District resident, Betty Hathcock, 70, has watched the roof of her house deteriorate for the past two years while she has waited for a grant. So, when it rains, the house floods and mold sets in. And there’s the damage to her home’s foundation that she said occurred a few years ago when the city demolished the house next door. The promises of a grant came quickly from city officials. She’s still waiting.
Buffalo has long had a disconnect when it comes to HUD funds. The city Comptroller’s Office said the city has committed only $1.2 million of the nearly $5.5 million it could have distributed to repair homes. That’s money left on the kitchen table.
Other cities in similar situations seem to have figured out how to leverage these federal funds. But, for some reason, it doesn’t happen here. Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the city’s Office of Strategic Planning, talked about HUD’s exacting standards. No one will skip steps, according to Mehaffy, and no one is suggesting that the city not follow the rules. Just taking the first step, for many, would be a, well, good first step.
Getting to the end of the game sends applicants through the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, overseen by Mehaffy’s office, and then to Belmont Housing Resources of Western New York, which has a contract with the city. Once approved, BURA sends the applications to the Comptroller’s Office, where they are reviewed. If all goes well, a construction loan is closed and the contractor is given notice to proceed.
The layers of bureaucracy are confounding.
The city says three jobs have been completed, one is under way, two more are scheduled and 22 loans have been closed. But that’s just a drop in the proverbial bucket and, as Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder asked, “Why do the residents of the City of Buffalo have to be tortured like this?”