Federal authorities order sweeping overhaul of failing New York public housing

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Federal authorities this week took a major step toward reforming and rehabilitating New York City’s unsafe, unsanitary, and in some cases, illegal public housing.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and the Environmental Protection Agency moved this week to take more control over the struggling New York City Housing Authority, which has been accused of violation basic health and safety regulations that protect children from lead paint among other violations.

Back in June 2018, the NYCHA was ordered to drastically improve the housing conditions for its residents, amid complaints of lead paint, mold, pest infestations, broken heaters in the winter, and non-functioning elevators.

Now, HUD, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney, and the EPA are taking more control of the situation in an effort to remedy the numerous problems more quickly.

On Thursday, HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced an agreement between HUD, the city of New York, and the NYCHA to “provide a new roadmap forward for NYCHA that will address the longstanding issues at the housing authority’s properties.”

The agreement establishes “specific requirements and milestones to address the serious health and safety hazards at NYCHA properties, including lead-based paint, mold, heat, vermin, among others.”

As part of the agreement, New York City is committing at least $2.2 billion in funding over the next 10 years to address the issues in NYCHA housing. HUD will also continue to provide funding to NYCHA, which is estimated to be $1.5 billion this year.

“The families who have endured unimaginably poor housing conditions deserve better from their housing authority,” Carson said in a statement. “Today we are presenting NYCHA residents with bold new solutions for decades-old problems.”

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney was a little less kind to the NYCHA is in his remarks.

“NYCHA’s failure to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing is simply unacceptable, and illegal. 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,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said. 

“This Office has not wavered from its commitment to better living conditions for NYCHA residents. Today’s agreement will improve the lives of the more than 400,000 New Yorkers who call NYCHA home,” Berman continued.

Berman went on to explain why the new agreement is a step in the right direction.

“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% abatement of all lead paint in all NYCHA developments, as well as a change in NYCHA leadership,” Berman said.

According to Berman’s office, the agreement requires the NYCHA to “fundamentally reform its operations and remedy living conditions for its residents, including lead paint hazards, mold growth, pest infestations, lack of heat, and inadequate elevator service.”

All of this stems from a complaint filed against the NYCHA by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which alleged that NYCHA repeatedly violated “basic federal health and safety regulations, including regulations requiring NYCHA to protect children from lead paint and otherwise provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing.”

The complaint also alleged that the NYCHA “repeatedly made false statements to HUD and the public regarding its lead paint compliance, and intentionally deceived HUD inspectors.”

The agreement stipulates that the NYCHA take action within 30 days to “visually inspect all non-exempt units built before 1978 where NYCHA believes a child under 6 resides or routinely visits and remediate any deteriorated lead-based paint in the apartment, and, over time, to abate all lead paint in all NYCHA developments.”

Additionally, the agreement states that NYCHA must name a new chief executive officer from a list compiled by HUD, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the city collectively.

Beyond that, a federal monitor will be put in place by HUD and the U.S. Attorney, which will be paid for by the city, and who will be responsible for overseeing the overhauling of NYCHA housing.

“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. But there is still a lot of work to be carried out,” Carson added. “We look forward to continuing what has been a productive working relationship with the Mayor and his team. HUD will continue to advocate for the hundreds of thousands of children, women, and men in New York City whose lives and livelihoods depend on having safe, fair, and affordable housing. They deserve nothing less.”

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