As New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Chair Greg Russ unceremoniously stepped down last week, suspiciously after the Jacob Riis Houses water scare, electeds have been busy introducing new bills to ensure that a similar situation can hopefully be avoided in the future.

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein and State Sen. Brad Hoylman introduced bill S.9557 because of genuine complaints that food wasn’t provided to NYCHA residents, just water bottles, during the eight days it took the city and lab company to realize the arsenic test results were false. The residents relied on donations or paying out of pocket for meals. 

The bill creates a process for ensuring public housing residents are provided food and water when their cooking and drinking water is disrupted. It would also require public housing with 100 or more units to provide three meals or meal vouchers and drinking water for all residents of buildings affected by a disruption lasting longer than 24 hours. 

“The nearly 4,000 residents of the Riis Houses could not use their tap water for 10 days due to faulty tests showing water contamination,” said Hoylman. “Residents could not cook their own meals, leaving them to pay more out of pocket or depend on charity to feed themselves and their families. The response to this crisis was unacceptable. Our bill will ensure that NYCHA residents will always have access to these basic necessities.”

Daphne Williams, president of the Riis Tenants Association, added her wholehearted support for the bill. “This time was very stressful, and NYCHA needs to be more transparent about what they do with our water. It’s essential to us: our families and kids use it to eat, drink, and bathe,” said Williams in a statement. “This situation continues to be very stressful for the tenants, and this bill will help address future issues.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams jumped at the opportunity to push out legislation about legal costs within NYCHA. His office has repeatedly named NYCHA as “the worst landlord in the city.” PA Williams reintroduced Intro 691, which requires NYCHA to report on any outside legal expenditures. 

“We already know, we have already seen, the human cost of NYCHA’s long-standing systemic failures and untenable conditions,” said Williams in a statement. “This legislation will provide the public with a sense of the financial cost of those failures and an accounting for legal actions NYCHA is involved in which extend beyond the scope of in-house counsel. With NYCHA facing a funding crisis, it is essential to have transparency about these kinds of expenses in order to identify patterns and prevent avoidable damage or unnecessary waste.”

Councilmember Carlina Rivera added that residents deserve answers and support. She’s also glad to support the legislation Epstein, Harvey, and Williams have put forth. She said that Councilmember Alexa Avilés, who chairs the Committee on Public Housing, will also be introducing new bills related to the challenges that families in public housing face, such as sanitation and rent costs. “They should not be made to pay for the mistakes of the city,” said Rivera.

Meanwhile, Mayor Eric Adams quickly announced that Russ was leaving office, and he’s splitting the roles of NYCHA’s chair and CEO. While the city searches for a new CEO, Adams tapped NYCHA Executive Vice President of Legal Affairs Lisa Bova-Hiatt to serve in the interim.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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