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OPINION: Fix NYCHA now

July 30, 2015 By New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Photo courtesy of Stringer’s Office
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There’s a troubling status quo for many of the 400,000 New Yorkers who reside in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartments: water dripping through ceilings, stoves that catch on fire, mold that goes untouched for years.  It’s an unacceptable reality that has lingered for far too long.   

Since I took office last year, my office has conducted six audits of NYCHA. We’ve looked at how the Housing Authority handles its supplies, procures funding, and manages vacant apartments. While the focus of the audits has ranged widely, the outcome has been uniform: NYCHA’s results repeatedly fail to meet basic standards.   

Our first NYCHA audit found that public housing and low-income New Yorkers lost out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential wages because the Authority failed to comply with federal law, and botched the implementation of the program it had developed to employ residents at NYCHA sites. Later, a financial audit found that NYCHA didn’t apply for available federal funding, and as a result left nearly $700 million in revenue and savings on the table, squandering an important chance to bring boilers, lighting and hot water heaters to residents. Our audit of NYCHA’s management of vacant apartments found that despite the fact that there are 270,000 New Yorkers waiting for NYCHA housing, the Authority left eighty apartments sitting vacant for more than ten years!

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Most recently, my office looked at how well NYCHA repaired and maintained its apartments.  What we found could make your head spin: 55,000 backlogged repair requests —– nearly 900 at the Breukelen Houses in Canarsie alone. It takes NYCHA an average of 370 days to fix building safety violations and, most incredibly, it has a policy that closes repair work orders if residents aren’t home when repairmen come to visit.

Combined, all of our audits tell the biggest repair story of all: NYCHA itself is broken. Earlier this month, I proposed a four-point plan that will provide the tools, the reforms, and some of the necessary funds to begin improving quality of life for NYCHA residents.

Going forward, NYCHA should:

  • Implement NYCHAStat, a new management system modeled after the NYPD’s successful CompStat system that will provide real-time, development-by-development breakdowns of key maintenance statistics. NYCHAStat would bring transparency to the Authority’s operations, and give tenants, advocates and all citizens of New York City the ability to monitor NYCHA’s progress in making repairs in real time.  

  • Enact budget reforms that would make NYCHA’s finances and capital plans, which in their current form don’t allow for proper accountability, as transparent as any other Ccity agency.

  • Update — — and publicly release — — its Physical Needs Assessment, a comprehensive overview of major infrastructure needs that the Authority has kept hidden for years. NYCHA must tie that document to its capital projects report, while also making the document more timely and user-friendly.

  • Seek surplus Battery Park City Authority funds, which amount to approximately $400 million over the next ten years. The funds could support capital improvements at NYCHA, including technology and infrastructure upgrades.

If we are going to effectively address New York City’s affordable housing crisis, we must start by protecting the apartments we already have. It’s long past time that we put NYCHA’s house in order.  We must fix NYCHA now.   

 


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