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City To Pay Over $2 Billion To Fix NYCHA, But Cuomo Says Real Problem Is Mismanagement

June 11, 2018 - 1:25 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) -- New York City on Monday agreed to a federal consent decree to pay more than $2 billion to fix the problems at the city’s Housing Authority.

As WCBS 880’s Steve Burns reported, reports of the rundown condition at New York City public housing developments date back at least to 2016. But on Monday, federal prosecutors said they have reached a deal with the city.

But As WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported, Gov. Andrew Cuomo believes NYCHA still has a lot of work to do internally.

The city agreed to a consent decree in Manhattan U.S. District Court under which it will pay $1 billion over four years and $200 million annually until problems are overcome.

The deal also calls for the appointment of a monitor to oversee the city-run public housing authority during the 10-year span of the agreement.

“A federal monitor will be appointed. That monitor will have the mandate and authority to reform NYCHA and fix these problems,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.

The agency's operating budget is $2.3 billion for public housing where nearly 400,000 low- and moderate-income residents live.

Tenants pay an average of $522 a month in rent, with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development subsidizing the rest.

The consent decree outlined a long list of problems in NYCHA, including the presence of lead paint somewhere on the premises in half of all developments, complaints about mold growth going back seven years, and problems with heating, broken elevators, and mouse and rat infestations.

There were also allegations of a manual of deceptive quick-fix tips that were given to workers when they knew inspectors were on the way – including turning a building’s water off so inspectors wouldn’t notice pipe leaks.

In one instance mentioned, a refrigerator motor was put into a ventilation system to make it look like it was operational. Meanwhile, lead paints were falsified as far back as 2010 during the Bloomberg administration.

“As is often the case, where there are violations, there is a cover-up,” Berman said. “Year after year, NYCHA falsely certified that it was in compliance with lead paint regulations when it was not.”

Federal funding has diminished in recent years, but Berman maintains, “The culture at NYCHA is to blame.”

But he hopes new management, combined with the federal monitor, can right the ship.

Cuomo also said the problem all along at NYCHA has been chronic mismanagement, and until that is solved, nothing will be accomplished.

"It sounds like the city is relinquishing control to a federal monitor, and the city's agreed then to fund the federal monitor, so it's a very drastic solution, obviously,” Cuomo said. “Remember, this is primarily a federal, legal, and financial responsibility. It's the federal government that's supposed to be paying. I haven't seen the order but my guess they're holding the city liable for the bad management at NYCHA."

The governor added, “Going forward, I hope this somehow now works; that the federal monitor is given the authority to actually run the place.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio said it will take a long time to fix the problems at NYCHA. But he also said the consent decree itself was important.

“I felt that being in accord with the federal government was important; being on the same page – the city, NYCHA, HUD, the U.S. Attorney,” he said.

De Blasio said Monday afternoon that the city had been investing significantly in NYCHA well before the consent decree. He added the city some time ago had ended payments that NYCHA had been forced to hand over for such accommodations as police service.

He added that NYCHA was nearly bankrupt when he first took office.

De Blasio also noted that there are aspects of NYCHA that the consent decree does not address and need improvement and maintenance, among them public safety.

“All of NYCHA must keep operating and must keep improving,” he said.

De Blasio added that given the investment the city will put into NYCHA in the consent decree, he hoped the state would also put in an investment.

But city Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-15th) slammed the mayor, and alleged the de Blasio administration was lying to the public about lead poisoning in public housing.

“The mayor’s endless stream of excuse-making is becoming tiring,” Torres said. “You know, he referred to what are investigative findings as mere allegations. What planet is the mayor living on?”

The city Law Department declined to comment.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)