MANHATTAN (CN) – When a judge rejected their settlement late last year, federal and municipal officials under fire for New York City public housing’s squalid conditions adopted a new tactic. They sidestepped the courts entirely to eke out a new deal on Thursday.
“This is a very positive outcome, one that I believe can bring meaningful change to living conditions of the many thousands of families who depend upon NYCHA for their housing,” Trump’s Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson declared in a statement.
In November, U.S. District Judge William Pauley III found the solutions that U.S. and city officials had on offer woefully inadequate and told them so in a blistering 52-page opinion.
“This case is about the disastrous human toll resulting from a complete bureaucratic breakdown of the largest public housing agency in the United States,” Pauley wrote, adding that the agency failed in its obligations toward the more than 400,000 New Yorkers who live in its 326 housing developments.
The ruling pulled the plug on a $2 billion plan to save NYCHA and warned that “half-measures” would not cut it.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman called today’s agreement an upgrade from the one Pauley rejected.
“The agreement goes beyond the prior proposed consent decree by providing strict, enforceable standards that NYCHA must meet by particular deadlines for the five critical living conditions, including requiring both the immediate remediation of lead paint in apartments with children under 6 years old and, over time, 100 percent abatement of all lead paint in all NYCHA developments, as well as a change in NYCHA leadership,” he said in a statement.
No court will be able to test that claim because the administrative agreement does not require judicial approval.
Like Pauley’s ruling, the new agreement totals exactly 52 pages, and it sidesteps the judge’s calls for “politically unpopular” action.
“Other measures may be necessary and even less palatable, such as replacing NYCHA’s management or abrogating collective-bargaining agreements and vendor contracts,” Pauley wrote. “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.”
Instead, the new agreement calls for the appointment of a monitor reporting to U.S. and city housing officials, as well as federal prosecutors.
At a press conference, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended what he called “NYCHA 2.0,” as well as the obsolete 1.0 model.
“Look, the standards that were set last summer we thought were good,” de Blasio said. “We signed the deal. We all signed the deal and it went before the judge and the judge asked us to go back and work on it again. But in that process, we found a way to do something I think that’s even better which is this negotiated settlement, which concludes all the outstanding legal matters and allows us to move forward.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James, who once served as de Blasio’s public advocate, promised to “keep a close watch” on NYCHA.
“After years of mismanagement and extensive maintenance problems, it is imperative that NYCHA residents have a role in this process and finally get relief from the deplorable conditions they have endured for far too long,” she said.