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Marine Drive Apartments Manager Resigns

Female tenant claims Henry Littles wooed her, plied her with gifts, left her. Did his bosses know?

Let’s dispatch with the titillating details of this story and then move on to its substance.

Henry Littles, who until Friday worked for Erie Regional Housing Development Corporation as manager of the Marine Drive Apartments, has resigned amid allegations that he engaged in a months-long affair with a female tenant of the complex. Littles is married with children.

The Marine Drive Apartments are owned by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, which hired EHRDC to manage the property in 2006, after the disastrous tenure of the previous manager, HKMDA, LLC. Littles is a longtime supporter of Mayor Byron Brown, who exercies considerable control over the boards of both BMHA and EHRDC. EHRDC hired Littles to manage Marine Drive.

According to the woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, the affair began in March 2009, when Littles began sending her underwear in the mail and asking her on dates via text message. As the affair intensified, she says in a statement, Littles assured her that his marriage was headed for a divorce. She says they sometimes met in Canada and other times used vacant apartments in the Marine Drive complex for their rendezvous. Sometimes she’d visit him in his office.

She claims that Littles arranged for her to move into a bigger apartment in August 2009, despite her being behind on rent for her current unit in Marine Drive. She says he provided her with a cell phone on a plan that included him and his son, and paid the bill each month.

In December, she says, Littles’ wife found a silk robe Littles had given her as a birthday present in his truck. After that, she says, Littles’ attitude toward he began to change. In January, she discovered she was pregnant with twins. Littles told her he couldn’t be the father because he’d had a vasectomy; she insisted that she had slept with no other men in the six months they’d been dating. He offered to pay for an abortion. She says she called him, worried, from the office of Dr. Shalom Press, and he replied, “This is the best thing to do…as I said, I’m not interested in any babies.”

She went through with the abortion, then suggested they suspend their relationship until he had divorced his wife. Littles then broke it off, and the woman decided to make her story public. She provided a statement describing the relationship, along with more than 1,000 photos and text messages, to residents of Marine Drive who have been critical of Littles’ tenure as manager. She emailed her statement to a wide list of recipients last week.

Littles denied the allegations to a Buffalo News reporter and claimed that the woman would recant; he did not respond to a request for comment from Artvoice. Michael Seaman, chair of the BMHA’s board of commissioners, told the News that the board had received her statement on Thursday and “confronted” Littles about it; Littles resigned the next day.

So there are the sordid details. But there’s another story attached to this one, which begins last fall. Some residents of the Marine Drive Apartments claim that they sent letters last October to the boards of ERHDC and BMHA, and to the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the state agency that oversees BMHA, describing and expressing concern about the affair. The letter was occasioned by a complaint by a resident who paid a $100 deposit to reserve a common room for a Halloween party. Littles, the complaint alleges, cancelled that reservation and gave the room instead to the woman with whom he was having an affair. The resident who’d made a deposit on the room a week earlier filed a complaint, in which she claimed that the woman sleeping with Littles boasted that Littles would do anything she wanted him to.

According to Joe Mascia, a resident commissioner of BMHA and a resident of the Marine Drive Apartments, the complaint was forwarded to officials at BMHA, ERHDC, and DHCR. He says his wife called Seaman directly about the matter. Mascia says their concerns were met with silence.

Michael Rivera, president of ERHDC’s board of directors, denies having learned of the Littles affair before the morning of Thursday, May 20, though Mascia insists that Rivera was an addressee on the materials sent out in October, along with Seaman and Dawn Sanders, BMHA’s executive director. “We were utterly shocked,” Rivera says, “especially because, as far as we’re concerned, he’s done such an excellent job on managing the property. He’s done some real good work there.”

Rivera says that he convened members of the board’s executive committee to discuss the matter on Friday. They subsequently learned that Littles had resigned, and on Monday presented the facts as they knew them to ERHDC’s entire board of directors.

The Marine Drive Apartments foment some complicated politics: Many who live there would prefer that the complex return to being a resident-managed coop. Developers have long lobbied the city to sell the valuable waterfront property. Mascia is known as a fervent critic of the Brown administration, Littles, and EHRDC. (In her statement, the woman says that Littles specifically warned her against talking to Mascia about their relationship, and she says Littles was fearful of encountering Mascia when he visited her apartment.) There’s no disputing, however, that management of the Marine Drive Apartments has improved under EHRDC as compared to HKMDA: Vacancies, debt, and uncollected rents are all down. Littles has his critics—Rivera describes these as “malicious and bad” elements determined to undermine Littles’ management—but he has supporters, too, among Marine Drive residents and among the agencies to which he ultimately reported.

Rivera argues that one of Littles’ achievements was standardizing a process for receiving complaints, such as the complaint filed in October 2009, so that all complaints are read and addressed.

“He was on top of everything,” Rivera says. “He reported everything to us…but you can’t believe the negativity in response to this man from some people. Complaints, complaints, complaints. I said to him, ‘Henry, some of these complaints are slanderous toward you.’”

Maybe Rivera didn’t learn about the affair in October. (We sent an email asking Seaman, the BMHA board chair, when he’d first learned of Littles’ relationship, but at press time he had not responded.) Still, Mascia says Rivera’s name was on that October 2009 letter in which residents brought the affair to light. Attorney Bill Trezevant, who was recently appointed to the ERHDC board by Ellicott District Councilman Curtis Haynes, spent the early part of this week underlining for his fellow board members his concerns about the legal liabilities to which this issue might expose ERHDC. On Monday, May 24, Trezevant wrote: “I am concerned about the Board’s vunerability to any lawsuit which might be initiated. I am further concerned that there has been mention of a ‘severance package’ for Mr. Littles as a result of his apparent resignation.” Trezevant asked that the board convene a special board meeting to discuss the matter, and added, “I for one, am not interested in being the subject of lengthy depositions as a result of Mr. Littles actions without a full and complete discussion.”

“If these allegations true, we want to make sure that he did not abuse his authority,” Rivera says. “That’s it. And we’re investigating that right now.”

—geoff kelly

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