Amid the ongoing woes that the New York City Housing Authority is currently facing—including scrutiny over its slowness to address heating problems this winter, its lead paint compliance failures, and general mismanagement—there have been calls from the New York City Council and other officials for Governor Andrew Cuomo to declare a state of emergency for the beleaguered agency.
Cuomo has not yet made that declaration, but earlier today, he toured the Jackson Houses in the Bronx to see the conditions in NYCHA housing for himself. His assessment: He called the living conditions—apartments he saw were infested with vermin, with peeling paint and other issues—“intolerable” and “disgusting.”
“This is just a pure case of neglect,” Cuomo stated in a press conference afterward. “The residents’ rights have been abused.” The governor stated that he’s prepared to authorize the use of design-build, in which one firm is contracted to carry out the design and construction process of a project, as a way of making necessary repairs more quickly.
I am directing the NYS Department of Health to launch a full investigation into the hazardous conditions plaguing the New York City Housing Authority.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 12, 2018
The conditions we saw today present a clear threat to public health. The residents of public housing deserve better.
He also indicated that he would be willing to declare a state of emergency, but Cuomo asked city officials to figure out how, exactly, the city could implement the necessary fixes. “The question then becomes: what specific action do we take once we take a declaration of emergency?,” he stated. “And what mechanism do we want in place to get around the NYCHA bureaucracy?”
Cuomo’s general counsel, Alphonso David, noted in a letter that some methods could include “a replacement of existing management, the appointment of an independent monitor, the identification and selection of contractors to be responsible for repairs, and/or the appointment of a public health monitor to focus on lead testing.”
(The letter also noted that the federal government, under HUD, could move to take over control of NYCHA. But “[t]his would be the worst case scenario,” the letter noted, “as the local government’s power and control would be usurped - the City embarrassed - and the residents would essentially be in the hands of this Federal government.”)
In terms of funding, Cuomo said that the state would make $200 million in state funds available “[o]nce an independent mechanism is chosen and we know money will be spent in a timely way—not 3 to 4 years.”
Though Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to respond to Cuomo’s tour de Bronx, deputy mayors Alicia Glen and Dean Fuleihan held their own presser afterward:
.@AliciaGlen says NYC submitted list of priority projects to state that $200M from state budget could be used for but no response from state— Madina Toure (@madinatoure) March 12, 2018
Others pointed out previous instances in which Cuomo diverted funding away from critical repairs to NYCHA buildings:
And none of this changes the fact that by NYCHA estimates that its various properties, which house more than 400,000 New Yorkers, are in dire need of approximately $17 billion in capital repairs. NYCHA is primarily funded by the federal government, which cut the agency’s budget by $35 million in 2017, and could slash the its budget even further next year.