A new federal complaint alleges the affordable housing conditions in New York City are not decent, safe, sanitary or even legal.
But that is about to change.
Monday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it reached an agreement with New York City to improve its hazardous health conditions in its affordable housing.
Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Principal Deputy Inspector General Helen Albert, performing the duties of the inspector general, and Scott Pruitt, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator filed a federal complaint against the New York City Housing Authority. The complaint alleged that NYCHA violated basic health and safety regulations that protect children from lead pain as well as provide decent, safe and sanitary housing.
“The people who suffer as a result of NYCHA’s misconduct are its residents, including lead-poisoned children; elderly residents without heat in winter; asthma sufferers whose condition is worsened by moldy and pest-infested apartments; and disabled residents without functioning elevators,” Berman wrote in the federal complaint.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman: @NYCHA’s failure to provide decent, safe & sanitary housing is simply unacceptable & illegal. Children must be protected from toxic lead paint, apartments must be free of mold & pest infestations. Read Federal Complaint→ https://t.co/ZKNyNLusbd pic.twitter.com/R3cp5WVj2q— HUDgov (@HUDgov) June 11, 2018
From the federal complaint:
NYCHA knows that there is lead paint within apartment units in roughly 30% of its developments, but has failed—and continues to fail—to protect its residents from that paint when it peels and crumbles. NYCHA has for years failed to follow key HUD lead paint safety regulations including, among other things, by failing to find and remediate peeling lead paint in its developments and failing to ensure that NYCHA’s workers use lead-safe work practices to avoid disturbing lead paint that might injure residents. Since at least 2011, NYCHA senior managers have known that NYCHA was violating HUD lead paint requirements. Beyond HUD’s requirements, NYCHA has also violated lead paint safety regulations promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But not only does the complaint allege that NYCHA knew about the problem, it also says the NYCHA took action to conceal the problem from HUD and the public.
“NYCHA has repeatedly made false statements to HUD and the public regarding these issues, and has deceived HUD inspectors,” Berman stated in the complaint.
The complaint explains that each year, NYCHA certifies that it is complying with HUD’s regulations to provide “decent safe and sanitary” housing, and has received billions of dollars from the agency to operate in compliance with them.
From the complaint:
NYCHA has undermined HUD’s inspections by disguising the true condition of its properties. This deception included turning off water to developments to prevent HUD inspectors from observing leaks; posting “danger” signs to keep inspectors away from troubled areas; and temporarily hiding improperly stored hazardous materials. NYCHA management even included a document with suggestions for deceiving inspectors in NYCHA’s official training materials.
Some of the conditions residents live in include mold growing unchecked, often on a large scale, inadequate heat in winter, pest and vermin, failing elevators, leaks, peeling paint and other deteriorations.
The complaint also points out even low exposures to lead can lead to irreversible neurological problems in children such as learning disabilities, reduced attention spans and behavioral problems. Even among adults, ingestion of lead can lead to or exacerbate conditions such as cancer, hypertension and kidney failure.
“NYCHA’s failure to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing is simply unacceptable, and illegal,” Berman said. “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.”
“NYCHA has put its residents at risk,” he said. “Today’s unprecedented settlement will improve life for the 400,000 residents who call NYCHA home, while ensuring accountability, reform, and oversight at this troubled institution. The city’s commitment of resources to NYCHA is extraordinary and promises real relief for NYCHA residents.”
A proposed settlement agreement was also filed in the form of a consent decree. This decree, subject to the review and approval of the court, imposes a strong federal monitor, and requires the city to provide $1.2 billion in additional capital funding over the next five years and $200 million every year thereafter until the problems are fixed, according to Department of Justice.
“This historic agreement marks a new era for New York City’s public housing, one that puts families and their children first,” Carson said. “New York City and New York State are making an unprecedented commitment to put NYCHA on a new path. The cooperation of federal, state and city officials will vastly improve the living conditions for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who call NYCHA home.”
Albert expressed his pride in the settlement, saying it represents a consequential partnership with the U.S. attorney and others to ensure those living in NYCHA will be provided safe and sound conditions.
“Instead of protecting children from lead poisoning, NYCHA systematically violated EPA and HUD lead paint safety regulations and covered up its noncompliance,” Pruitt said. “Today’s landmark settlement puts a stop to that.”
“It is not only a great example of what EPA and HUD can achieve by working together, but it also sends a strong message to housing authorities, landlords, and renovators – violating the law and endangering public health will not be tolerated,” he said. “This agreement will dramatically improve the living conditions of New York City’s most vulnerable residents.”
The federal monitor set up by the consent decree would have the authority, under the review of the court, to set the performance standards that NYCHA must meet. This position would also devise the plans by which NYCHA will achieve those standards.
The monitor will be selected by the U.S., after consultation with city and state officials and NYCHA stakeholders, and subject to approval by the court.
According to the Department of Justice, as part of the consent Decree, NYCHA admits, acknowledges and accepts responsibility for:
- At least once a year, beginning no later than 2010 and extending through 2016, NYCHA’s certifications to HUD contained untrue representations that NYCHA “will comply with” HUD’s federal lead paint safety regulations.
- In more than half of NYCHA’s developments, NYCHA’s inspections, including statistical sampling, have confirmed the presence of lead paint somewhere on the premises, and in at least 92 developments, the inspections, including statistical sampling, have confirmed the presence of lead paint inside apartment units.
- Since at least 2010, NYCHA has not performed most of the biennial lead paint risk assessment reevaluations required by regulation for developments containing lead paint.
- From at least 2012 to 2016, NYCHA failed to perform visual assessments of apartments for lead paint hazards as required by regulation. In 2016, NYCHA began performing visual assessments in units where children under six reside, but NYCHA has not yet performed visual assessments in the majority of apartments that may contain lead paint.
- Since at least 2010, NYCHA has not ensured that staff use lead-safe work practices when performing work on surfaces that may contain lead paint.
- Currently, after NYCHA has removed mold from apartments, the mold returns at least 30% of the time.
- In winter 2017 to 2018 alone, more than 320,000 residents, 80% of the public housing population, lost heat.
- In 2016 alone, NYCHA experienced an average of more than 13 outages per elevator.
- NYCHA’s data reflects more than 260,000 work orders for roaches between 2013 and 2016. For the same period, there were more than 90,000 mouse work orders and nearly 36,000 rat work orders.
- For a decade, NYCHA provided its staff with a list of “Quick Fix Tips” to improve its Public Housing Assessment System inspection scores.
As a result of the agreement, HUD will lift its zero threshold for NYCHA and allow the agency to resume spending its existing public housing capital funding without seeking prior HUD approval.