Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of June 20, 2022

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of June 20, 2022

Date: June 24, 2022

By E. Lydia Rodriguez, Nina Raj, and Sydney Browne|

Each week, PPG summarizes important takeaways from the major Buffalo Common Council meetings. We also include information from Council meetings related to our Community Agenda items

This week, the Common Council held four committee meetings. The Civil Service Committee addresses matters relating to human resources, civil services, and personnel. The Finance Committee concerns all matters about the budget and issuance of bonds. The Legislation Committee focuses on local laws, ordinances, and general legislation—except for civil matters. The Community Development Committee focuses on matters pertaining to work or improvement using revenue from another government unit. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Council canceled this week's Claims Committee meeting.

The Civil Service Committee opened with the approval to appoint an Account Clerk Typist for the City of Buffalo's Department of Assessment and Taxation and a Parks Supervisor I for the Department of Public Works, Parks, and Streets. The committee received and filed several items on the agenda—including appointments for permanent and seasonal positions.

Council members spent most of the Finance Committee discussing the approval of the subrecipient agreement with the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority (BMHA). Interim Executive Director Gillian Brown and Assistant Executive Director Modesto Candelario attended on behalf of the BMHA. The pair requested the allocation of $2 million from the City's American Rescue Plan fund. Brown explained how BMHA currently has a tenant accounts receivable balance of $3.6 million in unpaid rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with $2.5 million coming from approximately 750 families in Buffalo. He explained how the Emergency Rental Assistance Program deprioritized public housing residents and how only a few applications received funding.

BMHA intends to meet with every family who owes more than $1,000 or more and review what other funding sources are available. Families would not receive individual assistance, but BMHA would administer the pot of funds to resident ledgers to assist as many people as possible. Brown concluded his opening statement by reiterating how, due to the current policy from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, BMHA would have no choice but to file nonpayment actions against these tenants by the end of the summer.

Several committee members questioned the BMHA reps about the situation. Council Members Wyatt, Nowakowski, Bollman, and Rivera asked for a breakdown of the financial requests based on district. Mr. Brown explained that most came from University District, North District, and Fillmore District and that areas with families and small children had more significant hardships during this period. Wyatt inquired whether other support channels were available, and Mr. Brown responded that individuals should apply for programs such as ERAP or Stand Up Buffalo before ARP funding. He insisted that nobody would be "ineligible" for funding and that BMHA intends to assist as many individuals as possible even though there is "virtually no chance" of public housing residents' reprioritization.

Council Members Rivera and Wyatt expressed their displeasure and frustration with the situation. Rivera explained how the committee was largely unaware of how flexible the ARP funds were and noted the upcoming committee recess. He further stated Council's commitment to tying up loose ends to get their constituents the assistance they need. Councilmember Wyatt—who has the largest amount of BMHA residents in his district— took particular issue with Mr. Brown's previous lack of engagement and asked what he had done pre-pandemic. Brown responded with his endorsement of BMHA's actions thus far. Wyatt rebutted with an anecdote of a Kenfield-Langfield resident forced to sleep in her car with her young son because BMHA refused to let her into her apartment on the weekend. Brown responded with a rationale of BMHA logistics, such as the number of people they serve and security issues. The council member concluded the discussion by proposing a town hall where Mr. Brown could be in attendance for individuals in his district.

Deputy Comptroller Delaine O'Dowell joined Common Council to discuss an internal audit on wireless police devices to save the City of Buffalo $8,400 annually. Council Member Wyatt inquired why the police and fire departments exceeded their budgets by $2.5 million, given the departments' underbudgeting. He stated the departments must either budget correctly or reduce the amount of issued overtime.

During the Legislation Committee, council members discussed several proposed business licenses, many of which remained unopposed, the body approved with conditions. A petition to "Stop Opioid Center Installation in Cleve-Hill Plaza" was an item on the agenda for the week. Members of the University District Coalition, the Godfrey Street Block Club, and the Judges Row Block Club were in attendance to voice their opposition to the presence of the Hopewell Opioid Treatment Center in the Cleve-Hill Plaza. Council Member Feroleto informed those in attendance that this issue will go to the Community Development Committee as there is no pending legislation. 

Despite the facility's approval, and the Buffalo Common Council's lack of ability to vote on the matter, Council Member Wyatt filed a petition to allow residents in his district to voice their frustration with the new facility. Council Member Wyatt presented a document with 800 signatures from residents the University District Coalition, Godfrey Street Block Club, and Judges Row Block Club obtained. While sympathizing with concerns, Wyatt acknowledged a letter he wrote Commissioner Chinazo Cunningham of the Office of Addiction Services and Supports asking for her to rescind her approval of the Hopewell Opioid Treatment Center.

This week's Community Development Committee meeting began with a presentation of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center's design for revitalizing the lot of an abandoned 19th-century home at 907 Michigan. Mike Johnson, Director of Government and Community Relations at Roswell, explained the plans to construct the Rishawn Nicole King Center for Community Outreach and Engagement as part of the organization's mission to promote health equity. The center will house sixteen Roswell Park staff members and focus on providing medical screening, health education, Spanish language outreach, and financial literacy classes with community partners. Additionally, it will be an alternate way to meet with healthcare professionals for individuals hesitant to visit a hospital. After 4:30 p.m. on weekends, the building's large conference room and kitchen will be open to the public, free of charge. Johnson told the Council that the Roswell team had held 15 meetings with community stakeholders and received positive feedback for their initial design proposals. 

Rishawn Sonubi, the center's architect and a partner at Young + Wright Architectural, delivered a summary of the intended design of the 907 Michigan property. Sonubi emphasized that his plans maintain the historic character of the Fruit Belt by restoring the lot's existing structure from the 1870s, ensuring the additions maintain the same style as the surrounding neighborhood. The Council approved the Community Health Center's designated developer agreement, which the planning board will review in the future.  

Next, real estate developer Douglas Jemal outlined a proposal for the redevelopment of the Mohawk Parking Ramp at 477 Washington St. The project will add a residential space and two more stories of parking to the Mohawk Ramp, which Jemal hopes will contribute to the urban vibrancy of the area. Common Council also approved this designated developer agreement. 

Need more than just a summary? Contact us at info@ppgbuffalo.org, or find full meeting information and schedules here: http://buffalony.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx