MANHATTAN (CN) – Calling for a dramatic overhaul of New York City public housing, a federal judge blocked a proposed consent decree Wednesday that would have spent more than $2 billion on fixes.
“This case is about the disastrous human toll resulting from a complete bureaucratic breakdown of the largest public housing agency in the United States,” U.S. District Judge William Pauley III wrote. “NYCHA’s stated mission is to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing for the 400,000 or more low and moderate-income New Yorkers who live in approximately 175,000 apartments in 326 housing developments.”
Although federal and city officials entered into the landmark settlement in July, the deal quickly gathered scores of detractors. In his ruling today, Pauley described how droves of tenants and elected officials urged him at a September hearing to scuttle the agreement.
“One after another, they rendered harrowing accounts of the squalid conditions in their apartments and the indifference of NYCHA management, called for the firing or prosecution of NYCHA officials, and urged greater tenant participation in the negotiation and enforcement of the proposed consent decree,” Pauley wrote.
In a footnote, the judge highlighted the “heartbreak and trauma” of a woman returning to the public housing apartment where her 16-year-old son had been murdered. For more than 10 months she sought a transfer to another unit without success, until she brought her case to Pauley.
“While this court commends NYCHA for acting expediently after the hearing, it should not take a public admonishment from a federal judge to spur NYCHA to perform an act of basic human decency,” Pauley thundered in the footnote.
Both city and federal officials said they remain committed to a workable solution.
“This decision will not affect the record investment Mayor de Blasio has dedicated to reversing decades of divestment and mismanagement of public housing,” the mayor’s press secretary Eric Phillips wrote. “For the sake of NYCHA’s residents, this Mayor’s reforms – including those outlined in the consent decree – will not stop and will not slow down.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said that the well-being of NYCHA residents remains his “paramount concern.”
“We are reviewing the decision of the court and will respond within the time frame set forth by Judge Pauley,” Berman said in a statement.
But Judge Pauley hinted that more drastic change may be necessary.
“Ultimately, whether the parties choose to address this public emergency through a judicially managed consent decree, a receivership under the U.S. Housing Act, or in some other way, it appears that half-measures that merely maintain the status quo while shielding the powers-that-be from politically unpalatable solutions are doomed to fail,” his ruling states.
Mayor de Blasio has blamed chronic underfunding of public housing for the mold- and pest-infested apartments around the city today, but Furman noted that the money the city pledged for repairs has gone untapped.
“To be sure, this court shares the parties’ doubts that any solution will offer an immediate panacea, in large part due to NYCHA’s crippling $31.8 billion capital deficit and its inexplicable dysfunction in leaving untouched hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to it by the city,” the ruling states. “But desperate times call for desperate — and sometimes politically unpopular — measures, whether that be exploring public-private housing partnerships, infill development, or the sale of air rights. Other measures may be necessary and even less palatable, such as replacing NYCHA’s management or abrogating collective-bargaining agreements and vendor contracts. Any of these measures requires political will at all levels, from the HUD secretary, to the governor, to the mayor, and to NYCHA’s interim chair. The well-being of more than 400,000 New Yorkers depends on it.”