MANHATTAN (CN) – Under fire for chronic safety violations, New York City’s Public Housing Authority agreed to federal monitoring Monday as part of a settlement worth more than $1 billion.
“The people who suffer as a result of NYCHA’s misconduct are its residents, including lead-poisoned children; elderly residents without heat in winter; asthma sufferers whose condition is worsened by moldy and pest-infested apartments; and disabled residents without functioning elevators,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman wrote in a 75-page complaint filed simultaneously with the consent decree this morning.
In a public statement, the prosecutor was equally fiery.
“NYCHA’s failure to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing is simply unacceptable, and illegal,” Berman said. “Children must be protected from toxic lead paint, apartments must be free of mold and pest infestations, and developments must provide adequate heat in winter and elevator service. NYCHA has put its residents at risk. Today’s unprecedented settlement will improve life for the 400,000 residents who call NYCHA home, while ensuring accountability, reform, and oversight at this troubled institution.”
The government’s lawsuit accuses the New York City Housing Authority of having failed to protect residents from lead paint inside of 30 percent of its developments.
“NYCHA has for years failed to follow key HUD lead paint safety regulations including, among other things, by failing to find and remediate peeling lead paint in its developments and failing to ensure that NYCHA’s workers use lead-safe work practices to avoid disturbing lead paint that might injure residents,” the complaint states.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spread the blame widely for the city’s housing woes, having made the blight a focus of his Dickensian-themed campaign “Tale of Two Cities.”
“This administration also has made mistakes,” the mayor said in a Monday afternoon press conference, adding that it should have known about the lack of lead inspections.
“But I don’t want to hold any element of government blameless. … I think the honest reality is everyone has been a part of this, and everyone now has to be part of the solution.”
De Blasio also emphatically rejected the notion that he had been forced into signing the agreement. Earlier he had described it as being a difficult and nontraditional action, but said he believed it was the right thing to do.
“I was not forced — it was a decision, my friend,” he said in response to a journalist’s question at the press conference. “I had the choice.”
In the settlement de Blasio signed, the city must provide the agency with $1.2 billion over the next five years, plus $200 million every following year until a consent decree is no longer deemed necessary.
Prosecutors estimate NYCHA will have roughly $4 billion available in capital improvements the first four years, from the combined total of federal, state and city cash.
As part of its settlement decree, the New York City Housing Authority acknowledges having misled its federal counterparts annually about lead paint violations, mold growth, inadequate housing, nonfunctional elevators and back logs.
“At least once a year, beginning no later than 2010 and extending through 2016, NYCHA’s certifications to HUD contained untrue representations that NYCHA ‘will comply with’ HUD’s federal lead paint safety regulations,” the 24-page consent decree states.
At his press conference, de Blasio also dodged discussion of punitive measures against officials and employees who might have helped orchestrate the deception, saying he preferred to focus on the future.
“More important is to fix what’s broken,” he said. “People who live in public housing need action and they need it as quickly as possible.”
De Blasio did, however, offer his share of what he said should be a joint apology.
“I apologize, and I want to hear everyone else apologize,” he said, referring to federal, state and city governments, “but more importantly, I want to fix the problem.”
Several New Yorkers who live in public housing sat in the first few rows of de Blasio’s conference, and the mayor acknowledged their fight for safer developments while greeting them afterward.
Noting that there are 400,000 people who live in New York City public housing, de Blasio called the NYCHA “a city within a city.”
“Once upon a time public housing in this city was the envy of the nation,” he said. “A lot of things went wrong thereafter.”
De Blasio blamed the NYCHA’s decline on “consistent reductions in funding.”
NYCHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Berman held his press conference at noon.