Wednesday, June 13, 2018

NYC Settles NYCHA Negligence Scandal for $2.2 Billion

NYCHA settlement
A 3 year federal investigation revealed widespread misconduct
and lies that endangered NYC public housing tenants. Now,
the city will pay $2.2 billion to overhaul its housing authority.

This Monday, New York City agreed to pay out $2.2 billion to settle a federal investigation into claims of gross negligence by New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Among the allegations submitted in the 80-page civil complaint, NYCHA lied and falsified records to cover up deplorable living conditions in its public housing program.

Federal prosecutors accuse NYCHA of promoting systematic misconduct by falsifying reports, misleading federal inspectors, and covering up noncompliance. These organizational failures jeopardized more than 40,000 low-income tenants by neglecting mold remediation, vermin control, adequate heating, and lead paint regulations.

The settlement ended a probe that began in 2015, which uncovered several predicaments involving the NYCHA- most notably, NYCHA's falsification of lead inspection certificates. NYCHA's then-chairwoman, Shola Olatoye, came under fire for neglecting to annually test properties suspected of containing lead paint, citing that a funding deficit caused the authority to switch to a biannual inspection schedule.

Now, it seems that the lies went even further than anyone expected.

The civil complaint was filed last week in federal court by Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. NYCHA chose to settle rather than stand trial.

Disturbing details of the probe can be found in the consent decree between NYCHA and New York City:

  • Federal investigators found at least 19 cases where children were directly exposed to lead paint in their NYCHA apartments;
  • NYCHA failed to ensure its workers employed lead-safe practices;
  • NYCHA falsified lead abatement reports and neglected to test some 55,000 apartments for lead paint; 
  • Unserviced boilers and heating systems left over 300,000 residents without heat last winter;
  • Some elderly or disabled tenants reported being trapped in their apartments or forced to sleep in building lobbies due to malfunctioning elevators that were never fixed;
  • Federal investigators found a large scale mold issue in NYCHA housing stock;
  • NYCHA circulated a "Quick Tips" training guide among employees that showed how to hide poor performance from federal inspectors;
  • Advice from the "Quick Tips" guide suggested staffers to shut off water lines to buildings with leaks and use painted cardboard to cover up damaged ceiling tiles during federal inspections
As part of the settlement, New York City will spend an additional $1 billion over the next four years, and $200 million per year after that, in order to improve its housing authority. NYCHA will also submit to oversight by a court-appointed, federal monitor and take responsibility for its numerous health and safety violations.

"These violations will no longer be tolerated," Geoffrey S. Berman, United States Attorney, said in a recent press release.

However, some tenants seemed wary.

"I don't think things are going to change and get better even if there is oversight. Who's going to oversee the overseers?" Trinese Cropper, resident of NYCHA's Bronx River Houses, said in a recent press release.

NYCHA properties in Bronx have long complained over vermin, peeling paint, broken utilities, and other issues.

Still, the settlement is a major step forward in repairing the New York City's public housing program. With more transparency and more funding, NYCHA can potentially turn around this situation.

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