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City Hall Bureaucracy Delivers Poor Service Year After Year

The Sad History Of Home Rehab Programs In Buffalo

A recent Buffalo News article highlighted City Hall bureaucracy causing low income homeowners to wait years to have a home repair loan application processed. It is amazing how this story repeats itself over and over. Let’s review the sad history of home repair programs in Buffalo.

In 1997 the federal (Housing & Urban Development) department, HUD released a critical audit of the City’s Housing Rehab program. The audit found:

• five of 57 properties completed over two years;

• “inefficiency, waste and mismanagement ran rampant”;

• the program “suffered from a lack of oversight.”

As a result of the HUD audit the rehab Program was moved from the Buffalo Neighborhood Revitilization Corp to Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, or BURA.

In 2005, a Buffalo News article titled “City Aid for Home Rehab Means Waiting…Years,” highlighted:

• people waiting three years for a loan

• “…home rehabilitation program was plagued by inefficiencies”;

• “The city’s top planner acknowledges that bureaucratic foot-dragging stalled action” on 200 applications.

In 2009, HUD found 19 serious problems with the city’s management of federal funds, stating, “an overall management system did not exist.”

Same Story In 2013

In 2013, the City of Buffalo is still addressing the same problems that existed back in 1997. As a recent Buffalo News article pointed out:

• “…months have turned into years as applicants face a frustrating bureaucracy”;

• according to the City Comptroller applications have been “stuck in this vacuum for three years because of the inability” of BURA;

• applying for a home rehab loan involves wisiting a community agency, Belmont Shelter Corp., which handles most of the application processing, BURA approval, and approval by the City Comptroller.

Since at least 1997, getting a loan to rehab properties in Buffalo has been a horrible, poorly managed experience for residents, and the problem continues today. In addition to the outrageous delays, according to City Comptroller Mark Schoeder, the city has committed only $1.2 million of the nearly $5.5 million it could have distributed to repair homes. Clearly a need for home rehab loans exists but the city due to mismanagement leaves millions of dollars unspent.


When people are elected mayor and councilmember without any solid management experience, and when employees are hired based on politics and not their skills, the lack of results speak for themselves. Why does the public allow such poor service to continue? Why is the Mmayor never held accountable for poorly performing departments under his control? Why doesn’t anyone on the Common Council ever ask what is going on with the home rehab program and seek to make changes? Why don’t preservation organizations demand changes to the City’s rehab program?

Government needs leaders in office and in the community who are interested in the details of bureaucracy. We need people who are focused on the issues of management, waste and inefficiencies. Many governments at the state and local level have implemented Lean and Six Sigma as tools to address the inefficient bureaucracy of government programs. Other local governments set performance goals that are tracked to determine success. While Buffalo has CitiStat in place, for the purpose of tracking performance, Buffalo’s CitiStat has become more of a public relations tool then a performance measurement tool.

Ways To Improve The Home Rehab Loan Program

As I see it there are two choices for improving Buffalo’s home rehab loan program:

• Get the city out of the loan processing business. Banks know how to process loan applications and they have skilled and trained staff who are held accountable for performance. Perhaps the city could contract with a local bank. Belmont Shelter is a well respected community organization that has the talent and skills to process loan applications as well. Belmont currently handles most of the rehab loan application process now. The delays in the loan program occur in City Hall, so get City Hall out if the process as much as possible.

• If the rehab loan program is going to continue with City Hall involvement then the steps involved need to reduced and tracked continuously. CitiStat, the Common Council, and performance audits by the City Comptroller are all methods that could be used to track improving the rehab loan process.

Leadership Needed!

The rehab loan fiasco is just one example of poor bureaucratic service being provided to city residents. There are many other areas of city government that could benefit from establishing goals/objectives that are tracked and measured. Successful people set goals and track how they are doing. Successful organizations also set goals and track the improvements being made in reaching their goals.

The rehab loan program needs to be operated differently, which has been known since 1997, under Mayor Tony Masiello. The Byron Brown administration was made aware of problems with the rehab loan program in 2005, yet eight years later in 2013, problems with the program continue. When made aware of poor results, Leaders do what is necessary to make improvements.

Paul Wolf is an attorney and the President of the Center for Reinventing Government:

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