NYCHA, City, and Federal Government Will Come Together To Fix Public Housing

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference on the future of NYCHA in the Blue Room at City Hall on Monday, June 11, 2018. Image credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Consent decree seeks to create a common game plan to funding to ameliorate problems at  the New York City Housing Authority. Public housing has been under the public eye in the last few years due to allegations of mismanagement from its leadership. On June 11, 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference on the future of public housing in New York City. The Mayor announced that the City agreed to a settlement, memorialized in a consent decree, with the Manhattan United States Attorney to provide funds and allow federal monitoring for the improvement of the safety and quality of life of NYCHA residents.

NYCHA currently houses approximately 400,000 people in its 326 developments across the five boroughs. Mayor de Blasio also said that every level of government failed the residents of NYCHA since the election of 1980. Mayor de Blasio called NYCHA a “city within the city” and explained how historically and legally NYCHA has been its own entity chartered by the federal government. Though the City of New York was not obligated to fund NYCHA, Mayor de Blasio said that his administration took a different approach to provide additional and new funding to NYCHA. This approach follows the Mayor’s decision to agree to the consent decree as the next step to provide NYCHA with City help.

At the press conference, Mayor de Blasio was joined by NYCHA’s new leadership, Stanley Brezenoff, Interim Chair and Chief Executive Officer, and Vito Mustaciuolo, General Manager and Chief Operations Office. Mayor de Blasio stated that both Brezenoff and Mustaciuolo are the “right people for this moment to take this situation and turn it around.”

In recent years, NYCHA and its former leadership have come under scrutiny due to allegations of mismanagement and cover-ups. On June 13, 2018, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman filed an 80-page complaint alleging NYCHA has lied and covered up poor living conditions and other problem with the habitability of some of its apartment. Some of the allegations that have surfaced include painting over damages to prevent visibility of the poor conditions and shutting off the water during inspections to hide leaks.

Former NYCHA Chair, Shola Olatoye, resigned in April after City officials including Council Member Ritchie Torres and the public voiced concerns over her credibility and management of NYCHA. Mayor de Blasio and his administration has supported Olatoye despite these concerns.

At the press conference, Mayor de Blasio voiced his frustration over the allegations against NYCHA, stating that it “made [him] angry as hell to know that there were some people in NYCHA who withheld information, tried to deceive the federal government and NYCHA’s own leadership.” He also emphasized that the City will conduct an independent review separate from the current probe being conducted by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney. Mayor de Blasio stated that there will be serious consequences for those found to have been lying or acting inappropriately, but did not elaborate on what those consequences will be.

The consent decree will provide a “mutual framework” for action between NYCHA, the City, and the federal government. Mayor de Blasio said that the consent decree created a common game plan with a common vision for all entities to move forward with fixing the current issues facing NYCHA. The consent decree will commit the City to one billion in capital funds over the next four years in addition to $200 million per year thereafter for as long as the consent decree is valid. The minimum term for the consent decree is five years, which will provide that NYCHA with a minimum of 1.2 billion dollars in funding from the City.

The consent decree also formalizes a compliance structure for NYCHA. A new compliance office will be created with a Chief Compliance Officer overseeing its management. Also, a federal monitor will be put in place. De Blasio characterized the federal monitoring as a positive addition and pointed to the City’s history with federal monitoring like that at the NYPD and the Department of Corrections. He stated that federal monitoring at these City agencies is an example of a “constructive, positive relationship that has yielded positive outcomes for all” and is optimistic that the same will happen with NYCHA.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development will also work with the City and NYCHA to review and expedite a number of waivers and elements of regulatory reform. This collaboration hopes to address NYCHA’s underlying problems and support its residents. The consent decree also provides that HUD will not reduce funding to NYCHA regardless of any new commitments made by the City.

When asked whether the consent decree is essentially giving up power to the federal government, Mayor de Blasio stated that it is clear that “NYCHA’s Chair, its board, its general manager, its leadership have to continue their work” and will work in cooperation with the monitor. He mentioned several times that the consent decree forms a collaboration with all the parties and is not meant to give the federal government any more control over NYCHA’s operation than NYCHA’s leadership.

The press conference ended with Mayor de Blasio offering a “joint apology” when asked if he would like to offer NYCHA residents an apology for the problems they have faced. Mayor de Blasio said “I want to offer a joint apology and you can find out if the other people involved want to be part of it. I think the federal government owes them an apology, recent administrations going back 30 years owe them an apology. I think the State government also owes them an apology also going back decades. I think the City government owes the apology. My Administration and I will offer an apology, but the administrations before me should offer an apology too.”

By: Dorichel Rodriguez (Dorichel is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2017.)



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