Federal prosecutors on Monday released a complaint accusing the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) of putting children, elderly tenants, and people with health issues in danger by not meeting safe-housing standards and lying about it.
The new report—which concludes a two-year investigation into one of the biggest managerial failings of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's (D.) tenure—includes charges that the NYCHA has been violating basic federal health and safety regulations of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Politico reported.
De Blasio signed a consent decree with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan that commits the city to $1 billion over four years and $200 million in subsequent years to fix dire conditions throughout the housing authority's 325 complexes.
In doing so, he took more ownership of an agency whose head he appoints but which is legally a responsibility of the federal government. Any changes will be made under the watch of a federally appointed monitor.
Combined with federal and state aid, NYCHA will be getting $4 billion over four years to fix its deteriorating buildings.
"Today marks the beginning of the end of this nightmare for NYCHA residents," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a press conference Monday afternoon.
The report detailed multiple problems stemming from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's (I.) last term and continuing through de Blasio's two terms in office, which began in 2014.
"Children have been harmed as a result of NYCHA's failures. Between 2010 and 2016 at least 19 lead-poisoned children were found to have been exposed to deteriorated lead paint in their NYCHA apartments," the 80-page complaint says. "These 19 children are at risk of lifelong neurological problems. But the 19 cases understate the true extent of lead poisoning likely to have been caused by crumbling lead paint at NYCHA."
In addition to lead paint, housing tenants faced other dangers like mold and vermin infestations.
"Mold grows unchecked at many NYCHA developments, often on a large scale," according to the complaint. "Across the city, residents are provided inadequate heat in winter, leading to frigid apartment temperatures. Pests and vermin infestations are common, and as senior New York City officials have acknowledged, NYCHA ‘has no idea how to handle rats.'"
Prosecutors also castigated NYCHA for elevators frequently failing to work, leaving elderly and disabled tenants stranded in lobbies or forcing them to climb up unlit and hazardous stairwells. They also claimed that the agency lied to federal officials for several years, both during Bloomberg's tenure and throughout de Blasio's first term.
De Blasio, who is still searching for a permanent chairperson for the NYCHA, pushed back against the report, blaming the "neglect" on previous administrations over the course of decades.
"Decades of divestment by the federal and state governments and decades of neglect by New York City government have pushed our public housing system to the brink. I didn't run for mayor to continue that history. I ran to help turn it around," he said in a prepared statement.
De Blasio held a press conference Monday afternoon to discuss the report and his expectations in the future.
"This will be a tough and long battle. The ideas in the consent decree are the right ones, but they also indicate a huge challenge ahead. It will take many years to undue that which has been broken," de Blasio said. "You will see changes each year. You will see improvements each year. But to address the totality of the problems recognized in the consent decree will take a long time and a huge amount of resources."