Buffalo News: "Housing inspection program is hot topic at rally, Buffalo Common Council budget hearing"

Date: May 15, 2024

Harold McNeil | May 15, 2024

Housing Opportunities Made Equal, or HOME, is a local nonprofit agency that helps tenants deal with housing issues, among the most prevalent of which is unsafe housing conditions, according to Steven Haagsma, education manager for the agency.

It's why he and a coalition of housing activists from PUSH Buffalo and Partnership for the Public Good held a rally Wednesday in Niagara Square ahead of the Common Council's public hearing in City Hall on Mayor Byron W. Brown's $617.9 million budget proposal for the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

They were there in support of bolstering the city's Proactive Rental Inspection program.

"Landlords should not be allowed to profit from providing unsafe housing while tenants must suffer the consequences," Haagsma said prior to addressing the lawmakers directly in Council Chambers.

Among other funding priorities in the budget, several city residents called for a full implementation of the PRI program. 

"Funding the program is good," said Janayia Capers, housing justice organizer for PUSH Buffalo. "We're happy that it's in the budget, but this is just the first step. There's still more work that needs to be done, and the implementation is the next step." 

Buffalo lawmakers in recent weeks have doubled the rental registry fees that are paid by landlords to raise funds for more lead paint inspections in rental properties. 
"With new funding in the budget from increased rental registry fees, we demand that the mayor and the commissioner work with our community to implement the law quickly and equitably and forcefully in order to achieve the goal of 6,000 inspections per year that was originally laid out for PRI back in 2020, when the law was passed by the Common Council," said Dawn Wells-Clyburn, executive director of PUSH Buffalo.

She said the department of inspection, to date, had only completed 4,827 inspections.

"This is unacceptable, and represents an injustice for the tenants, families and children who have suffered from, or have been harmed by dangerous housing conditions across our neighborhoods," Wells-Clyburn said.

The groups are seeking to hold the mayor and his administration accountable for the health and safety of tenants in the city.

Last year, PUSH Buffalo and Partnership for the Public Good joined forces to send a message to city leaders that there is an urgent need to address local housing issues, particularly lead poisoning, which disproportionately affects children of color in Buffalo, along with a lack of enforceable tenant protections that leave too many tenants vulnerable to negligent landlords.

They had support from city lawmakers, including University Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt, and Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, who joined those taking part in the rally in Niagara Square. Wyatt said the city has a responsibility to address deficiencies in the PRI program.

"That is a game-changer. It can really help a lot of folks who are in situations where they're afraid to say anything because they may be evicted," Wyatt said.

Meanwhile, members of another progressive activist group that supported India Walton over Brown in the last Buffalo mayoral election, responded in a news release Thursday to Brown's budget recommendations.

"Mayor Brown has also proposed a 9% tax increase. This move is designed to allow the city to save face when, after inevitable push-back from the Common Council, a lower 3% to 5% increase is settled on as a 'compromise' to 'protect the taxpayer,' while the poorest are hit hardest. It is particularly ironic after Mayor Brown’s vocal condemnation of India Walton’s proposed 3% increase as unsustainable and intolerable for Buffalo’s taxpayers," Our City Action Buffalo said in a statement. 

Read the Buffalo News article on their website, here.