By TRONE DOWD
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) found itself at the center of attention again on July 25, when agency executives admitted during a public meeting that it had failed to keep several of its buildings up to federal standards at the expense of residents’ safety and well-being.
The news was first revealed by Anne-Marie Flatley, the vice president of NYCHA. Shortly afterward, NYCHA Interim-CEO Stanley Brezenoff explained during a Q&A with the press that the agency had sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) listing a number of specific “problem areas” that NYCHA needed to address.
“Under new leadership…NYCHA will review its operations regularly in order to address potential compliance gaps,” the letter to HUD stated. “Based on the work conducted thus far, NYCHA believes it may not be in compliance with a number of federal regulations.”
According to NYCHA, there are issues “with but not limited to” administrative practices, emergency management, appropriate staff training and tenant oversight. The agency said that that its new Compliance Department would help find solutions.
“NYCHA expects additional areas will be added to this list as the reviews continue,” Brezenoff stated in the letter. “We will report periodically on our progress.”
In a transcript of the Q&A provided by NYCHA, Brezenoff said that the admission was a matter of being candid with all involved.
“This is a very large, sprawling, complex organization with many, many components,” he said. “Given the history of the issues that NYCHA has been dealing with, we wanted to be absolutely certain that any assertions we make, any certifications we make, are not subject to challenge. We want to be transparent, and we want to be absolutely sure that when NYCHA—when I—put my name on something, that we are being fully forthcoming. In my view, the certifications had to be signed because not to do so might have delayed funding.”
NYCHA has been the subject of numerous scandals in recent years. Last year, it was reported that upwards of 130,000 NYCHA apartments still contained lead paint, violating both state and federal regulations and putting developing children at risk. The scandal forced former NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye out of office after just two years. Last month, the Daily News reported that in 2013, NYCHA workers forged tenant signatures to significantly reduce a backlog of more than 420,000 maintenance work orders without tending to a majority of the reported cases. This was done in order to keep Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s promise of dealing with the work orders in the 12 months he had before leaving office at the end of 2013.
The recent news of federal violations marks the first time that the agency came forward with such information. Brezenoff said that this is a concerted effort to change how NYCHA deals with issues.
“I guess you had to say we benefited from hindsight of being able to look at the experience there,” Brezenoff said. “I don’t necessarily question anybody’s motivation, but clearly part of our issue now is the perception of the agency as not having been transparent, not having been forthcoming.”
Elected officials lambasted the agency over the violations. Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Brooklyn), chairwoman of the City Council’s Public Housing Committee, told the Queens Tribune that she is “looking forward to receiving NYCHA’s compliance report by the chief compliance officer, followed by an oversight hearing.”
“At a time when compliance can be a matter of life or death, it is disappointing to hear the levels of noncompliance we have witnessed recently over the past several months from NYCHA,” she said. “Families have suffered from lead poisoning, respiratory disease as a result of mold, survived freezing temperatures with no heat during the coldest winters and now water shortages.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who also serves on the Public Housing Committee, shared his frustration.
“Every single resident of public housing deserves to live in dignity,” Van Bramer said. “The fact that NYCHA has failed to comply with federal standards is unacceptable. Safety is the utmost priority, and it must never be compromised. NYCHA must do everything it can to comply with federal standards for public housing and to assure that every apartment meets basic standards.”