Michele Johnson, East Side housing activist, struggled to keep the slumbers out

BUFFALO, NY (WIVB – An East Side activist who was known to stand toe-to-toe with slumbers, as well as local politicians, is remembered.

Michele Johnson was a dedicated wife and mother of four who loved Buffalo with a passion and despised those who would take advantage of this city to supply their pockets. Some of the first Call 4 Action stories about flipping in the home – the fraudulent kind – and slumbling outside the city, were inspired by Michele Johnson.

“Michele was very much a pioneer in a lot of things that we did back in the Housing Court,” said Supreme Court Justice Henry Nowak, recalling his days as a judge in the Buffalo Housing Court, as well as the ideas Michele Johnson came up with. to. the table. “We turned it into more of a problem-solving court.”

It was then that the city’s annual tax foreclosure auction attracted investors and potential investors from across the country and around the world – leading to scams and slums outside the city – and protesters fighting back.

“We show people that we are serious and that we will not allow things to happen in our city, and stand back and watch you do it every year,” Johnson once said of the protests.

Scammers often came to the city, buying up dozens of properties and turning them over for huge profits, sometimes fraudulently. It would leave tenants in uninhabitable conditions and unsuspecting buyers holding the bag. Johnson would demand justice from government officials.

“It’s fraudulent deception,” she said. “Saying you’re buying in a high rent area, buying a beautiful property that’s in great condition, requires no work, and then finding out you have a shell.”

Michele’s dedication to the cause also inspired a local filmmaker to produce a property turnaround documentary that has been shown in other cities, and inspired a mayor to take control and clear dilapidated property from a newly renovated school.

“It’s depressing,” she said. “I mean all the money we’ve put into the school and it’s one the kids look at every day and walk by every day it should go down.”

While Michele would address other causes, such as the central terminal, Judge Nowak said she leaves a lasting legacy in housing.

“She trained everyone else involved in the process, and city building inspectors owe her a great deal of gratitude because of how much she helped them figure out exactly what was going on,” he said.

To save some of the craftsmanship of Buffalo’s older housing stock, Michele Johnson promoted the recycling of housing components, such as windows and doors, during demolition. Michele died Christmas Day at home. She was 54.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.

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