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Joe Mascia: BMHA Resident Commissioner

Get to know a Buffalonian...

Joe Mascia is a contentious guy. As a resident-elected commissioner of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, he frequently stirs up trouble on the board. (He’s up for re-election this June.) His political activities and relentless criticism of the management of BMHA’s Marine Drive Apartments, where he and his wife live, have earned both applause and jeers. He is never dull.

You’re been a resident commissioner at BMHA, which has a reputation for being one of the poorest-run, patronage-heavy agencies in local government. How do you deal with that?

I understand that there is patronage in BMHA and I’m not pleased with it. I am first and foremost a resident-elected commissioner, and in every issue that is brought to my attention by a resident, it is my duty to present their issues to the board and to represent the residents. Regarding patronage, I’m disappointed that many positions are appointed to people who are not qualified and I most certainly do have a problem with that. The commissioners have only one employee and that is the executive director. It is the executive director’s duty to appoint staff. Unfortunately we, the commissioners, have no control over that.

How can you best make BMHA a more functional place?

There have been many efforts to make the BMHA more transparent and I do everything I can, within the HUD guidelines, to set policies to achieve that goal. It is very difficult to get these policies passed because there are only two resident elected commissioners. The other five are appointed by the mayor. As a resident-elected commissioner, I have a great degree of responsibility to the residents of BMHA housing to make sure that their issues are at least brought to attention of the staff.

Tell us a BMHA horror story.

I guess that would be, if I had to pick one, the situation that took place two years ago at the Ferry-Grider complex stands out in my mind. Commissioner Leonard Williams and I were called by the president of the resident council to investigate the deplorable conditions at that complex. Through the efforts of a Buffalo News staffer, Commissioner Williams, and myself it was brought to the attention of BMHA. In fact, my wife accompanied us and because of the conditions there and the efforts of these very humble and strong residents, she was in tears when we left. I’m happy to say that because of the stimulus money, over six million dollars is going to be spent at that complex.

Tell us a BMHA success story.

I am happy to say that in the past four years there have been several successes. In spite of some opposition, we are now very close to a a contract with the Buffalo Police Department to patrol our housing complexes. Also, we succeeded in securing funding for the demolition of Kensington Heights, a 30-year eyesore. Being a part of the effort to save the Willert Park Development has, personally, been a gratifying experience. That being said, it was the first housing development in the United States that was built specifically for African Americans. It has rich historical significance for many people in the community and I was proud to be a part of it.

Attention has been directed to substantial liens against you. Care to explain those debts?

My situation was never a secret. Over 12 years ago I was in the construction business and several companies that I was working for filed bankruptcy. At the same time I was in a very serious truck accident while I was in the process of trying to run 2 jobs which were located in opposite ends of the city. I broke my leg and hip and was hospitalized for 2 weeks and in physical therapy for months after which virtually crippled both my business and myself. We lost our house and my business and while at the time it was devastating we did find our way to Marine Drive. We lived on my wife’s income which made us income eligible to reside at Marine Drive. Where you find yourself in life is not by chance but by design.

I had the option, at the time, of filing bankruptcy but I chose to pay off my debts. Which, I might mention, I am still doing. It has been difficult but the experience has given me insight and compassion to all people who are dealing with any type of loss or setback especially in this economy.

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