When 80-year-old Stan Brezenoff took over as the interim chair of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) in April at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s request, many people scoffed. Sure, he had a history of fixing problems at the Port Authority, NYC Health + Hospitals and, recently, at the Board of Correction. But, they reasoned, NYCHA is a unique mess that needs more than a retirement-job approach.
Last week, Brezenoff showed the people of New York why he has been so effective as a “fixer” of city problems in the past. It is, in part, because he is brutally honest, stepping up and declaring that the agency is failing in several key areas, such as tenant protection and emergency services.
NYCHA has for decades been an agency in turmoil, with its myriad of problems popping up as headlines in tabloids, causing politicians and NYCHA executives to scramble to put out fires. The knee-jerk response to each outrageous mismanagement of the agency has been to say that federal funding cuts have left the agency unable to function. While that may be true, it is not an answer to why hundreds of thousands of people live in disgraceful conditions in one of the greatest and wealthiest cities in the world.
Last week, Brezenoff took a first step towards finding a solution by admitting that the problem before NYCHA had been exposed by the fourth estate. Transparency from the historically secretive housing agency is like a breath of fresh air. It adds credibility to calls for more funding because voters and politicians can at least say they know where the money is supposed to go; in the past, the calls for added funding were often dismissed, with the proposed funding viewed as destined for the abyss of a hopeless bureaucracy where unsavory people lined their pockets.
And this is why truth and transparency are so important: The truth is that NYCHA’s conditions are not acceptable. The majority of people in New York City don’t like that some of their neighbors are subject to substandard living conditions. People want to help them.
But—and rightfully so—people are also hesitant to support increased taxes or shifting funding priorities to places where they don’t get value for their investment. When peppered with press headlines of corruption and incompetence, no taxpayer wants to stand up and say, “Let’s throw more money at that problem.”
With his actions last week, Stan Brezenoff moved NYCHA one step in the right direction towards more credibility and, in turn, towards making hundreds of thousands of lives better.