Bad Day for NYC Public-Housing Agency

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Moments after a federal judge rapped the New York City Housing Authority on Tuesday for not cleaning up moldy apartments, the city’s comptroller’s found the agency unprepared for the Big Apple’s next disaster.
     The mold finding comes from a class action that South Bronx community leader Maribel Baez brought two years on behalf of hundreds of thousands of public-housing residents fed up with agency foot-dragging.
     Community groups such as Upper Manhattan Together and the South Bronx Churches Sponsoring Committee joined up as plaintiffs. In court last year, the residents secured a settlement forcing NYCHA to complete “simple” moisture-abatement repairs within seven days and “complex” repairs within 15 days.
     The NYCHA’s dim record fills the pages of a ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge William Pauley.
     “NYCHA has been out of compliance with the consent decree from the day it was entered by this court,” he wrote. “NYCHA’s justifications for its failure to comply are inadequate, and the attitude of NYCHA officials appears to be one of indifference. Indeed, no member of NYCHA’s management bothered to attend a hearing on plaintiff’s motion, the outcome of which may have broad implications for the agency.”
     Stopping short of contempt sanctions, Pauley agreed to appoint a special master to enforce NYCHA’s future compliance, and he ordered the agency to send a high-level official to future hearings.
     The Rev. Getulio Cruz, the pastor of Monte Sion Christian Church in the East Village, said in a phone interview that half of his congregation lives in public housing.
     “We’ve been dealing with this for years,” Cruz said.
     As a leader in the interfaith advocacy group Metro IAF, the reverend said the lawsuit began because NYCHA would simply paint over the mold instead of addressing moisture problems.
     “Within 30 days, you’d see the mold growing back on the wall,” he said.
     The NYCHA is reviewing the decision, a spokeswoman said.
     “NYCHA has taken substantial steps to address mold and excessive moisture conditions in its buildings, including revised standard procedures and additional staff training,” the spokeswoman said in a statement. “Our efforts to improve performance continue.”
     The city committed $3 million over three years for roof repairs believed to be at the root of certain mold problems.
     It did not take long for the second shoe to drop on the NYCHA Tuesday as New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced this morning that the agency is “woefully underprepared” to protect public-housing residents in a future disaster.
     “More than three years after Superstorm Sandy struck New York City – damaging 402 NYCHA buildings and shutting off essential services including heat, hot water, electricity, and elevators for tens of thousands of residents – we found that NYCHA is still woefully unprepared to face another emergency,” Stringer said in a statement.
     The audit found that property managers lack emergency-contact information for 80 percent of tenants who need wheelchairs, oxygen or other life-sustaining equipment.
     There is also insufficient data on tenants who are blind, deaf, or have physical or mental disabilities, Stringer said.
     In addition, the comptroller faulted the NYCHA for falling short on emergency drills, defining leadership roles and tracking power generators.
     Information about generators at 55 percent of developments remains missing, the audit found.
     Defending its record, the NYCHA faulted the scope of the audit as a moving target initially set to begin in July 2012 but subsequently revised to a year later. The end date shifted too before the comptroller settled upon a final period.
     The NYCHA also said Stringer failed to assess its response to post-Sandy emergencies such as Ebola, Winter Storm Juno, Hurricane Joaquin or the detection of Legionella bacteria in the Bronx.
     Spokeswoman Jean Weinberg slammed the audit as “yet another example of the comptroller cherry picking data and shifting timelines to paint an outdated picture of NYCHA.”
     “With the new year, we hope the comptroller’s office will seek an elevated and more productive discourse with NYCHA – a partnership that helps unearth real issues where they exist – like our collaborations on improving inventory controls,” Weinberg said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this audit was a missed opportunity to advance NYCHA’s efforts to become a more transparent and accountable landlord for our residents and the public.

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