Buffalo's public housing projects play host to violence and fear

Recent murders reveal failure and inflexibility of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority

Last August, when 14-year-old Raymond Patterson III was shot to death in Buffalo’s Kenfield-Langfield housing project, the need for increased security was apparent.

But the incident, which stemmed from a fight between two teenage girls that resulted in three additional teenagers sustaining injuries, didn’t provoke any changes. Instead, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority (BMHA) continued its contract with the City of Buffalo’s to provide police services to the projects after dissolving its own security force in 2010 to save money.

Then, on January 19 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – 19-year-old Dakym Reese was gunned down only 100 feet from his home in Shaffer Village, another BMHA housing project.

And yet again, BMHA did nothing.

Reese’s death was the first homicide in Buffalo in 2015, but even that couldn’t sway the BMHA to value the safety of residents over profits.

Now, the BMHA has the blood of a third teenager on its hands, as a 15-year-old was shot on Friday at the Kenfield-Langfield project. He survived, but will likely lose an eye.

It goes without saying the current level of security in Buffalo’s housing projects is not sufficient – but the BMHA clearly isn’t listening to the gunshots on its properties.

Residents are not safe. Bullets are flying and people are dying.

All because the BMHA won’t reconsider its budget.

In 2010, the BMHA dissolved its private security force as a cost-saving measure, resulting in a reduced police presence in the housing projects.

It cost the BMHA just $650,000 to contract the City of Buffalo for police services, saving the authority $2 million annually. Hiring a private security force would be costly.

But it would also save lives.

With a police force operating solely to patrol and protect the housing projects, there would be a consistent police presence in the project, rather than sporadic visits by Buffalo police, usually responding to crimes.

Residents of the projects could rest assured the police in their area were there specifically to protect them – not just to arrest them or zip them up in a body bag – with training and objectives dedicated to the task at hand.

Not only would there be an increased security presence, but officers would have the time to interact with residents individually, helping foster a safer community environment.

In contrast, city police officers have a far wider range of responsibilities and concerns. Their training has to be more varied, and their focus more widespread. Of course this is completely understandable for a force tasked with the challenging job of patrolling and protecting an entire city.

But it’s also precisely why the BMHA should not maintain their current contract with the BPD.

The force that works in the projects, called the Buffalo Police Housing Unit, has to respond to calls outside of the apartments, and residents have complained that the officers do not engage with residents.

The arrangement clearly isn’t working and, in fact, it’s fatal.

The BMHA is supposed to provide shelter to low-income city residents, but having a roof over their head doesn’t guarantee safety.

Tenants have even resorted to sleeping their floors to avoid random gunfire.

The people of Buffalo deserve to feel safe in their homes and communities, and the BMHA’s privileging of money over human lives is despicable.

“Home” should mean shelter and safety, and right now, the BMHA apartments are hardly more than bullet-ridden walls.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com