NYC Housing Authority Accused of Covering Up Major Safety Issues
The federal government recently accused officials of the New York City housing authority of covering up some major safety issues, as well systematic misconduct, lying, and indifference in its management of the state’s public housing. Prosecutors in Manhattan said the housing authority, which is responsible for providing and maintaining the homes of 400,000 low-income residents in New York attempted to cover up its actions by training staff on how to mislead authorities.
Staff was instructed to present false reports to the government and to the public regarding the authority’s compliance with lead paint regulations. These actions directly put tenants in danger of exposure and poisoned children living in the apartments. The accusations were presented in an eighty-page civil complaint filed against the authority by the office of Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney in Manhattan, after an extensive investigation.
The major problems at the authority “reflect management dysfunction and organizational failure,” according to prosecutors, who touched on rat infestations and unreliable heat as well, “including a culture where spin is often rewarded, and accountability often does not exist.”
In signing an accompanying consent decree effective for a minimum of five years, Nycha admitted to the conduct, and as part of a broad settlement, the city agreed to spend an additional $1 billion on the authority over the next four years, and $200 million per year thereafter.
Tenant Trinese Cropper, 51, said she has experienced many issues with her home in the Bronx River Houses in Soundview including water damage, falling plaster, and windows that could not close. “I don’t think things are going to change and get better even if there is oversight,” said Cropper, who is a contractor. “Who’s going to oversee the overseers?”
Jose Pimentel, 45, who has lived in the Bronx River Houses for five years, was a bit more optimistic. “Whatever works,” he said. “Let’s see what happens.”
The federal complaint traces a pattern of Nycha falsely telling federal regulators that lead paint inspections had been done when they had not been since at least 2010. This is a major violation. In a written statement released after the complaint was filed, Mayor Bill de Blasio began with a reference to “decades of divestment by the federal and state governments and decades of neglect by New York City government” that had pushed Nycha “to the brink.”
Then, de Blasio, who appeared at a news conference a short time later, said he was “disgusted” and “angry as all hell” at housing authority workers who deceived inspectors. “It will be my sacred mission to fix the reality of public housing,” he said.
Since 2001, the authority has seen federal funding cuts of about $2.7 billion, according to agency reports. The capital needs were most recently estimated at about $17 billion, though a new, higher estimate is expected to be delivered shortly.
Along with the city’s agreement to spend an additional $1 billion as part of the deal over the courses of the next four years, existing commitments to Nycha from the city, state, and federal governments would bring the total to $4 billion over that same period. Only time will tell if increased oversight will finally right at the wrongs.