Skepticism surrounds HUD/NYCHA deal

Stephon Johnson | 2/7/2019, 10:47 a.m.
The New York City Housing Authority has been plagued with corruption and incompetence for years.
NYCHA Housing Photo by Bill Moore

Last year, Shola Olatoye resigned as the head of NYCHA amid agency scrutiny of several scandals involving lack of proper lead paint inspections, heat outages and financial corruption. Last October, Olatoye joined the Boston-based building contractor Suffolk as vice president in charge of business development in New York.

New York State attorney general and public advocate candidate Jumaane Williams said that NYCHA is in need of money and management and hasn’t received either. But that doesn’t mean he’s entirely OK with this news.

“While it is unconscionable that we have gotten to the point where an independent monitor must be appointed, it is what has been earned by years of neglect and use of NYCHA tenants as political props,” said Williams in a statement. “I have hope that installing a truly independent monitor will mandate that NYCHA tenants finally receive aid they need. It is certainly preferable to instituting a receivership.”

Williams also noted that he doesn’t trust Trump or Carson to address the needs of NYCHA residents.

Quinones said that she has developed a mistrust of elected officials when it comes to doing right by NYCHA.

“Almost all of these elected officials are on the take now,” said Quinones. “They got bought up. Check the real estate money that they’re getting. You can’t serve two masters. You cannot serve the real estate industry and the people of public housing.”

According to Cynthia Tibbs, who calls the WSUR NYCHA Brownstones on the Upper West Side home and is active in NYCHA matters, the reason that federal receivership was done was to limit the Southern District of New York’s power. Federal prosecutors had recently accused the city of failing to meet safety protocol and fix public housing buildings. Prosecutors for the Southern District had reached an agreement with NYCHA that would have forced the city to provide fixes and repairs as soon as possible.

Now, they have at least a decade to do it.

“All those hours of testimony that residents gave about the inhumane conditions they have been subjected to living in while paying their rent every month has literally been cast aside and the mayor will not be held accountable by the Southern District,” Tibbs said.

“Judge [William H. Pauley] had more power than the mayor and Ben Carson put together,” said Quinones. “And if we had went into a judicial receivership then the Southern District would apply the monitor and take that away from HUD.”

The text of the HUD/NYCHA plan uses nebulous language such as “Management of the highest quality and commitment” and “Robust oversight to assure remediation objectives are met,” but New York State Attorney General Letitia James said she plans to keep her eye on how the deal develops and is put in action.

“My office will keep a close watch on the details of this agreement to ensure that all the benchmarks outlined by the federal government and New York City are completed, and completed with care,” stated James. “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.”

In a surprise to many involved, de Blasio picked Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia to be the interim head of NYCHA. Garcia will take a leave of absence from her current post and head the agency for two months until they find a permanent board chair.

“I am going to work every single day to make life better for the 400,000 New Yorkers who call NYCHA home,” stated Garcia.