Who is in charge at St. John Tower? Seniors demanding answers

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–A management change at St. John Tower in downtown Buffalo is stoking fear among the elderly tenants that more changes are coming, which would eventually lead to replacing them with renters who would pay higher rents.

St. John Tower houses 150 low and moderate income senior residents, whose rents are subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is among the properties controlled by St. John Baptist Church next door on Michigan Avenue.

Tenants said all of the managers were fired and the new managers met briefly with the residents Thursday morning in a session that was long on questions, but short on answers.

Resident Deborah Scott voiced the tenants’ frustration, “You see all of us. We are disabled, we’ve been living here. They never gave the head of the tenant council any information to pass on to us either.”

The tenants took their concerns to Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen, whose Ellicott District encompasses St. John Tower and St. John Baptist Church which have, over the years, received massive support from the community.

“This was a place that was built for people to be in downtown,” Pridgen said. “Now what I am hearing is that the eventual plan is for this to no longer be HUD-subsidized so that people are able to move in here at a higher rent.”

Rev. Michael Chapman, pastor of St. John Baptist Church said the Tower is getting a $30 million renovation, from top-to-bottom and the new managers were hired to help facilitate the changes, “We worked out a way to do a $30 million redevelopment of that facility.”

But St. John Tower’s tenant council president Lynnette Joyner said the residents are afraid the cost of renovation could drive them out.

“After you fix it up are going to move us out? Are you going to put all the seniors out of here? People have sold their homes and came here to live until God calls them, and we don’t know nothing.”

Rev. Chapman refutes the notion the tenants are going to be displaced by more affluent renters, “We expect to be providing services for that for the next 55 years for low-to-moderate income seniors. So no, we are not changing it to ‘market rate’ or anything of that nature.”

There is evidence control of St. John Tower and other housing projects might be changing from local hands to an outside group of investors. Rev. Chapman said the uncertainty should be cleared up, when all the stakeholders come together for a news conference set for Monday.

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