By Michael McDowell
At the eleventh hour, it appears New York City—and Mayor Bill de Blasio—will retain control of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), though the housing authority will face new federal oversight. Upper West Side tenants criticized the deal as political maneuvering that did not take tenant needs into account, and could result in the privatization of public housing.
“We’re all going to work together,” said de Blasio. “I will make the final decision, but I want to see, as much as possible, a consensus process,” he added, in response to a question regarding who will succeed interim NYCHA chair Stanley Brezenoff.
That was the final word at a press conference on the 35th floor of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building on Thursday afternoon, at which the Mayor and U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson announced a deal avoiding a federal takeover of NYCHA.
Brezenoff’s departure is part of an agreement that includes the appointment of a monitor, who will report to HUD. The monitor will be named in the next few weeks, according to Carson.
The agreement sidesteps the action of the Southern District of New York; in November 2018, Judge William H. Pauley III, in a withering opinion, rejected a consent decree proposed to bring “organizational reform” to NYCHA and resolve federal charges of mismanagement and “systemic violations of federal health and safety regulations.”
Secretary Carson addressed the oftentimes squalid conditions faced by NYCHA residents—“environments that are not completely safe, with lead and mold and vermin, elevators that don’t work properly, heating issues that put people’s lives in jeopardy”—as outlined by SDNY, and noted that the new agreement promises specific oversight. “There will be specific landmarks that we will be looking to meet, and people will be able to see whether that’s being done,” Carson said. “Transparency is going to be a big part of enforcement in this particular case.”
Obligations specified in the agreement, such as regular inspections, the abatement of lead-based paint, mold, and vermin, as well as how NYCHA will respond to heating and elevator outages, did not impress resident leader Cynthia Tibbs, who lives in NYCHA’s West Side Urban Renewal Area Brownstones on the Upper West Side.
“It’s literally almost verbatim the same thing as before,” she said, in a phone interview with the West Side Rag following the press conference. “What they’ve done this time is taken Judge Pauley out of the equation. So this is their way of hopefully settling having to go back to court.”
Tibbs is not happy with the new agreement.
“Nothing good comes from a HUD takeover. I would have preferred a judicial receivership, which would have held the mayor to the highest accountability. HUD is only going to give a little bit more money than they usually do. HUD could give all the money they want to, but it still won’t get into the right hands. The reason that NYCHA is in the shape that it’s in now is due to lack of accountability and lack of transparency. The money was never managed to do repairs on behalf of tenants. It was never to improve the quality of life for the tenant, it was always to line their own pockets.”
Tenants, including Tibbs, are concerned that the ultimate goal is “to privatize NYCHA.”
With Bill Maher set to interview Mayor de Blasio on Feb. 1, Tibbs has a question she hopes Maher might ask.
“l already tweeted at Bill Maher, and asked him to ask de Blasio about [a private developer’s] plan to build a monstrosity on a NYCHA playground.”
Tibbs refers to an infill project at Holmes Towers on the Upper East Side. The New York Daily News reported that the developer selected for the project had made significant contributions to de Blasio election campaigns.
At the press conference, the Mayor noted that infill development, the sale of air rights, and public-private partnerships like Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) and Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) will be necessary to “give resources back to NYCHA.”
The new agreement accounts for $24 billion of the $32 billion needed to repair NYCHA buildings.
Both the Mayor and Secretary Carson emphasized their ability to work together, and their “tremendous”—de Blasio’s word—commitment to public housing and NYCHA tenants.
De Blasio said he’s listening to the 400,000 New Yorkers who live in NYCHA.
“I want to remind people, sometimes in the public discourse folks that live in public housing are stereotyped and stereotyped negatively and unfairly. But they are the backbone of this city. They are the everyday people that get up and work hard…[the people that] keep this city running. And we owe it to them to provide them with decent housing.”
Will tenants have a seat at the table?
“We’re very interested in the people themselves and what they have to say, and I’m very hopeful that the monitor will engage with the people themselves, with the resident counsels,” Carson responded.
Carmen Quinones, president of the tenants association at the Frederick Douglass Houses on the Upper West Side, is skeptical—to say the least—and indignant that the Mayor and HUD appear to have negotiated around SDNY action.
“What a dog and pony show. Where do the residents come in? Where do we come in? Judge Pauley was the only one on the people’s side. Judge Pauley was the only one that was listening to the residents.”
“Where’s the money? I want to know about the money. Who’s following the money?”
On February 22, Quinones will host a forum at Grace Methodist Church on 104th Street, at 6pm, for tenant presidents, all NYCHA residents, and community members who are concerned about the fate of public housing in New York City.
“It’s time to go to the streets,” she concluded.
Maybe, instead of grandstanding and running the oddest effort ever to advance himself, he should buckle down and figure out how to run the programs we have so people don’t die in stairwells and have rats and cockroaches running through their homes before expanding the programs the city claims to offer.
Hi my name is Geraldine Collins, I live on the upper west side and I’m President of the NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF HUD TENANTS. We advocate on behalf of over 2.1 HUD Tenants across the country and would love to work alongside the NYCHA tenants. We have a lot of knowledge regarding the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. Let’s work together.
thank you Geraldine. NYCHA must be repaired, not privatized!
thanks, Michael McDowell, for the coverage of this, and for actually interviewing NYCHA residents.
We need more ongoing coverage of activities in NYCHA buildings on the UWS. these are our neighbors. I have seen too many nasty comments about NYCHA tenants. myths and prejudices can only be dispelled through accurate information.
This is a very good article. Check out this piece from the Indypendent looking at the way private developers get paid from privatization efforts.