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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Rally

So I was cutting through the McCarley Gardens apartment complex on my way to the rally organized by the McCarley Gardens Tenant Association yesterday, when I walked right past Reverend Darius Pridgen. He was collecting signatures for something.

I was running a few minutes late, so I kept walking on to the rally. Plus, you never know if the guy is packing heat.

By the time I got there, organizers were moving the meeting out to the sidewalk on Michigan street, directly across from St. John Baptist Church, as directed by three Buffalo police officers and an apartment security officer.

Apparently, the powers that be did not appreciate the tenants gathering together to voice resistance to Reverend Michael Chapman’s plan to sell the HUD subsidized housing to the UB Foundation for $15 million dollars, uprooting some who’ve lived there over 30 years.

Property officials were so touchy they called the cops to push the peaceful group from the contained courtyard out to the sidewalk, where they were all the more visible to the traffic passing by.

According to one tenant, Reverend Pridgen said he needed ten more signatures for something, and she told him to go over to the crowd of a hundred protesters and ask. He would have no part of it. After all, he served as a master of ceremonies at a public meeting promoting the plan to uproot them.

Speakers included Lorraine Chambley, Debra Rose, and Gwen Walker, President,  Vice President, and Secretary, respectively, of the McCarley Gardens Tenant Association, Firefighter/Substitute Teacher Bryon McIntyre (who, like Pridgen, will be running for the Ellicott District Common Council seat), and Colin O’Malley, organizer of a new group called Buffalo Tenants United. Activist/lawyer Peter A. Reese provoked laughter and cheers with a hilarious sendup of the secretive UB Foundations that are dangling the money for the sale.

O’Malley’s group is trying to unite renters throughout the city to drive home the idea that housing is a right, not a privilege. “Millions of tax dollars go to projects like the Avant building to offer high-end condos, while there are still 2,000 homeless people in Buffalo,” he pointed out.

One young man testified that McCarley is the nicest place he’s lived, and that he loves it there.

You can support the McCarley Tenants in their struggle by filling out this card and contacting HUD. In order for Chapman to sell the place to the UB Foundation, HUD would have to let him out of the contract he signed in 2005, which was an agreement to keep McCarley Gardens around until 2025.

And since SUNYAB President John Simpson is now calling the “UB2020” plan “UB2030,” it’s hard to see the urgency of kicking people out of their homes so quickly anyway.

Click here to read the testy email Simpson sent out to alumni in New York State when UB2020/PHEEIA fell through.

  • Warren

    We all know what the urgency to sell the McCarley Gradens complex is: the continued laundering of federal funds into the pockets of people like Pridgen, and the continued de-stabilization of housing and neighborhoods.

  • biniszkiewicz

    Sorry, I have very limited sympathy for tenants in general in such an equation. In the ham and egg breakfast of real estate, tenants are the chickens and owners are the pigs. The chicken is involved in the breakfast. The pig is committed.

    There are plenty of good apartments vacant and in need of tenants in the city of Buffalo. Not one of these displaced tenants will be homeless. They will all find other accommodations. If the location isn’t as choice as these apartments, sorry, but that’s the breaks. That’s part of renting: renters do not give landlords permanent guarantees and landlords don’t give tenants permanent guarantees. It’s a one year at a time deal for both parties. If the tenants are too poor to afford to buy a place, and especially if they have their rents subsidized by Joe Taxpayer as these tenants have, then they should comfort themselves that they’re getting a great smoking deal. Count your blessings, Mr. 30 year resident. You’ve been carried by the taxpayer for a long time. You’ll still get a great deal on your new digs, wherever that might be. There are plenty of options from which to choose.

  • biniszkiewicz

    Sorry for the harshness of my earlier comment. I realize my position must seem wrong headed to some, besides being rude and condescending (for which I apologize).

    Maybe I should apologize for this one in advance . . .

    Understand, I come to this from the perspective of a landlord of more than 20 years. I’ve owned and sold apartment buildings, worked in commercial real estate for eighteen years. So I’m coming at this pretty strongly from the landlord point of view. But let’s put the situation into context.

    Pretend for a moment that the apartments in question were not built atop public subsidy, but were simply developed with private monies and owned by private hands. Pretend that Kissling owns them and he wants to sell them.

    Lo and behold, his buyer, Benderson Development Company, wants to level them to build a Wegmans. The zoning allows for the Wegmans and they are expected to get site approval.

    What would result in the private world from this transaction? With a private seller and a private buyer, the tenants all have just as much leasehold interest in the property as their lease says they do. No more, no less.

    That usually means that after a person’s lease is up, they have to leave if the landlord says they do. Period. The landlord is within its rights to evict for holdover any tenant who refuses to leave when the lease is up. Residential leases are usually drawn for one year at a time. Often, landlords do, in fact, kick tenants out. Often, buyers anticipate evicting everyone as part of the purchase. It’s often necessary, as for example, if the place is to be gut rehabbed. Sometimes it’s just desirable. Whatever the motivation, it matters not. The lease defines the contract. Period. Tenants have no more rights than their lease says.

    That’s the reality of the world without public monies being involved in the deal. Except we are supposed to side with the tenants in this instance? Why? Because their lifestyle is subsidized? Why should that confer more recipient rights than the rest of the taxpayers enjoy? If you don’t live in housing built with public subsidy, then you can be evicted, but if you do have the advantage of that subsidy then you can’t be evicted? Why?

    I’m not a Tea Party guy. I’m real liberal on taxing the rich and gutting the military and socializing medicine and a bunch of other stuff. I’m a Democrat, not a Republican. But I can see where their traction comes from. The public sector in general asserts more entitlement than the rest of the taxpayers enjoy. Public compensation, benefits packages, job security and pensions are all desirable. Public unions are strong. When public monies get involved, now it seems that even tenants benefit from special priviledge not available to the rest of the public. Upon what basis?

  • Peter A Reese

    @biniszkiewicz: Maybe you can understand it this way:

    1) We taxpayers already paid our federal bucks to make this a subsidized, church managed housing project. Until Rev Chapman came along, it has probably been the best managed and most successful of such ventures in WNY.

    2) Now we are supposed to spend tax payers money from NYS to buy it back. Note: UB Foundation money is really our money, raised in the name of our public university, SUNY Buffalo.

    3) Next our money will be used to tear it down.

    4) Then we will foot the bill to build whatever, if anything, is built there.

    How many times do you want me to pay for the same thing? Why not be happy with success and live with a mixed use medical/residential community which HUD prefers? Maybe this is thinly disguised ethnic cleansing designed to clean up the neighborhood so rich white folks will feel more comfortable there?

  • Kate

    I still say, if they’re going to cleanse for the benefit of rich white people, start with cleansing the creepy, decrepit Trico building that has sat empty for at least a decade that I’ve personally witnessed, probably a lot longer. That’s good land, too, right in the neighborhood.

    I guess I feel about this the same way I do abut gutting neighborhoods for Peace Bridge expansion: you’re getting rid of something that works in a city where there’s precious little of that. There’s got to be a way to take these two sides out of conflict.

  • biniszkiewicz

    The UB Foundation raises money for the benefit of UB. So you are contending that because someone donates money to the UB Foundation, that money is really ‘ours’? No, it’s UB Foundation’s money, not ours. That’s who it was given freely to. This isn’t tax money we’re talking about. Saying it’s our money is like saying that any non profit foundation’s money is our money.

    Moreover, UB tuition pays for most of UB’s operation. I’m not paying much for UB and neither is NYS. The students are paying, mostly.

    But even to the extent that taxpayers do subsidize UB, at least UB returns something on the investment. Attracting, educating and graduating students provides our community with a key economic resource: skilled workforce. This housing project provides no economic engine to the area. This area is specifically suited to UB’s downtown location because of the neighboring ownership by UB.

    I support UB carving out a big presence downtown. I think it’s good for UB as well as downtown. If the legislature had passed UB 20/20, I don’t think this endeavor would cost us taxpayers a cent. I also support the medical corridor as an engine of economic growth. This land is ideally situated for those uses.

    By contrast, location is far less critical when developing residential. There are many more options availalbe. UB can’t reasonably acquire land five or ten blocks away. Their campus requires cohesiveness, as does the medical corridor. Residential can be developed anywhere, relatively speaking. I would far prefer that tenants of subsidized housing be spread throughout the community, much lower density than even this type of urban renewal project. I see no advantage to either the tenants nor the community at large for concentrated low income developments. I agree with HUD on that, but I take it further. I would like to see the tenants integrated throughout WNY neighborhoods in existing excess housing stock. Fill up flats across Buffalo. Rent from private landlords, rather than build government subsidized low income only projects. It would be way cheaper and ultimately better for the tenants and community.

  • biniszkiewicz

    additional perspective: the purchase price of $15m for 150 units makes for easy math: $100k/unit. $100k is more than our home cost. It will buy a double on my street. With this $15m, the selling group could easily purchase 150 doubles around town and house twice as many residents as their current complex.

  • uncabobbo

    Dear biniszkiewicz: I have to agree with your analysis of landlord/tenant rights concerning leases. However there is one major point here that you and the other responders seem to be missing or minimizing. The “landlord” in this case also has a contract that has only been in effect for five years

  • uncabobbo

    (CONTINUED)…and has approximately fifteen years remaining. The ethical implication here is that the “landlord” has some inalienable right to enforce the provisions of a contract on his tenents while at the same time expects that the contract he signed with HUD should be voided. I think it was Bob Dylan who said “…money doesn’t talk, it swears!”.

  • biniszkiewicz

    @uncabobbo: Well, I agree with that. If there is a HUD contract in place for 15 more years, then that has to be honored, unless HUD is satisfied that alternate accomodations meet the same goal. But I, like Peter Reese above, would oppose any additional subsidies to replace this housing in any effort to meet that goal, given that this complex is already paid for.

    In the event that the UB foundation doesn’t replace this housing (without additional subsidy), then by all means they should be required to operate the complex according to the contracted terms. But UB Foundation should still buy it. Hell, with TRICO and M Wile, they may not even need this land for 15 years. But they should buy it now because it adjoins their fledgling campus and 14 acres is rare and difficult to accumulate downtown. They will need it down the road. Even if they cant’ touch it for 15 years, they are well advised to control it for their future needs. Fifteen years passes more quickly than I used to think it did.