Coney Island

State Senate IDC pushes for NYCHA reforms

Pols call lead crisis ‘The New Flint’ in scathing report

March 2, 2018 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Sen. Diane Savino and members of the State Senate Independent Democratic Conference issued an eye-opening report on the lead crisis in NYCHA buildings around the city. Image courtesy of state Sen. Diane Savino’s office

In the wake of the release of their scathing report on the levels of lead found in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings, members of the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference are pushing for major reforms in the city’s management of housing units.

The Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which includes two Brooklyn lawmakers among its members, state Sens. Diane Savino and Jesse Hamilton, released a report on Feb. 26 called “The New Flint,” in which they compared the problem of lead found in paint in NYCHA apartments to the crisis of high levels of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan.

Along with the report, IDC members issued a set of legislative proposals aimed at protecting NYCHA tenants.

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“NYCHA is the new Flint, and we need to step up and protect tenants from the negligence of the Authority. Residents are in serious danger, especially children, if we do not take action now,” state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx-Westchester), the leader of the IDC, said in a statement.

The IDC’s recommendations include:

  • Requiring 311 to accept complaints from NYCHA residents. Under the current system, complaints by NYCHA tenants are handled directly by NYCHA. Requiring 311 to track complaints would provide transparency, according to IDC.

  • Appointing an independent NYCHA monitor to serve as a watchdog over the housing agency. Under the IDC plan, the monitor would report to the state.

  • Legislation requiring NYCHA to submit lead paint reports to the state Legislature.

  • Legislation authorizing property tax abatements for lead removal.

  • Legislation requiring mandatory lead screening for children. Under the bill, children would undergo lead testing when they enter kindergarten, second or fourth grade.

NYCHA houses 396,581 residents in hundreds of buildings around the city. That’s nearly four times as many people as live in Flint, which has a population of 98,900, according to the IDC report.

IDC members charged that despite NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye’s recent admission of problems with the agency’s lead paint inspections and her promise to rectify the situation, tenants reported that there are still serious problems in their buildings.

Among the findings in the IDC report:

  • 79 percent of residents said NYCHA did nothing when lead paint was discovered in their apartments.

  • 80 percent had children whose blood-lead levels had not been tested.

  • 54 percent of tenants said they contacted NYCHA to request repairs, but waited more than a month for repairs.

  • 63 percent indicated their apartment has peeling or chipped paint.

“This survey indicates what we have been hearing around the city from the 400,000 NYCHA residents daily: action is desperately needed. No parent should live in fear that their young child has been exposed to lead paint in the home, especially if we are unable to grasp how widespread the severity of this failure on NYCHA’s behalf.” said Savino (D-Coney Island-parts of Bensonhurst-Staten Island).

Hamilton (D-Crown Heights-parts of Park Slope-Sunset Park) said it’s imperative that the lead crisis is never repeated.

“Every child growing up in NYCHA housing deserves to be free from lead poisoning. Every parent raising a family in NYCHA housing deserves to know that their apartment is not poisoning them. As someone who grew up in NYCHA housing myself, I know it is our duty to ensure NYCHA lives up to its responsibilities to every NYCHA resident,” Hamilton said.

In recent years, IDC has issued reports focusing on NYCHA and problems with mold, leaking roofs and peeling paint in housing units. The IDC spearheaded an effort to get New York state to invest $100 million for repairs.

But IDC members charged that serious problems persisted, despite the new funding.

NYCHA officials did not return phone calls.

But Dr. Mary Bassett, New York City’s health commissioner, is pushing back against IDC.

“These officials are playing politics with public health. Comparing New York, a national success story in reducing lead exposure, to Flint is alarmist and wrong. Exposure rates among children in New York City has fallen 87 percent since 2005, and they are even lower among kids in public housing,” Bassett told Fox 5 News.

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