Gov. Andrew Cuomo at housing complex in the Bronx Gov. Andrew Cuomo at NYCHA complex in the Bronx

NEW YORK CITY—Gov. Andrew Cuomo, after touring units at the Andrew Jackson Houses public housing complex in the Bronx today, termed the conditions there as “disgusting,” “intolerable” and “the most egregious I have ever seen.”

The governor at a press conference at the New York City Housing Authority complex said he will be meeting with city council leaders in Albany tomorrow seeking specific recommendations from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office and the city council to help improve conditions at the Andrew Jackson Houses and other NYCHA operated sites.

“The situation we have seen is as upsetting and disturbing as anything I have seen anywhere and I have been through public housing all across this country,” said the former HUD Secretary. He termed the conditions at the Andrew Jackson Houses as a “pure case of neglect.”

He later added that he wants firm recommendations and a plan of action within two weeks from the city or he will make a decision on how best to move forward.

The governor said the main issue is the bureaucracy at NYCHA that has caused in some cases a three-to-four-year delay on needed capital improvements. Among the options the governor floated included having NYCHA be eligible to have projects be undertaken under a Design-Build process that expedites the approval process to get projects started and completed. Design-Build authorization legislation is currently pending before the New York state legislature.

Cuomo also said that he has no problem with granting NYCHA tenants’ request to declare a state of emergency because of the health and safety issues that exist. NYCHA manages more than 180,000 apartments in the city that are home to over 400,000 residents.

The state has no management oversight of NYCHA, but has provided the authority with approximately $300 million in funding. The governor stated that New York State would immediately make $200 million available to remedy conditions at NYCHA properties once it knows how the funding will be spent in a timely fashion.

Counsel to Gov. Cuomo Alphonso David in a letter to the city council, addressed the design-build and state of emergency declaration options. In terms of the emergency declaration, he informed council members the declaration could include a “replacement of existing (NYCHA) 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.”

Mayor de Blasio was out of town on Monday. A spokesperson for the mayor said on Sunday in response to the news that Gov. Cuomo planned to tour the Bronx housing complex, “The mayor’s public housing investments are at record levels, while the governor’s promises have fallen far short. After three decades of Andrew Cuomo’s political involvement in New York City, we do welcome his new interest in helping our city’s public housing tenants.”

Gov. Cuomo stated that he directed New York State Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker to conduct a formal investigation into NYCHA properties after a state inspection indicated clear health and safety hazards.  The public health hazards to be addressed by the investigation include the presence of mold and lead paint. Zucker also attended the Andrew Jackson Houses tour today.

The governor after the event announced a plan to create a tenant-led oversight council to oversee how funding is spent and how repairs are conducted at NYCHA. The council would include NYCHA’s tenant board members and members of the Citywide Council of Presidents, but would serve as an independent oversight body. The tenant-led oversight council would be made up of resident leaders, who would work with advocacy organizations, elected officials, and faith and union leaders. The creation of the tenant-led oversight council would be negotiated as part of the fiscal year 2018-19 state budget, the governor noted.

Among those who joined the governor for the tour included Danny Barber, chair of the NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents, an organization that filed suit in February against NYCHA over health and safety issues at their units throughout the city, including lead paint and that approximately 323,000 public housing residents went without heat or hot water this winter. Barber is also the president of the tenant association for the Andrew Jackson Houses complex.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said the deplorable conditions at the Bronx housing complex are “pervasive” and exist at NYCHA-managed properties citywide.

City Council Member Ritchie Torres, who chairs the council’s Committee on Public Housing and represents the 15th District in the Bronx, called the conditions at NYCHA properties that included widespread losses of heat and hot water services as a humanitarian crisis and a state of emergency. “It is a failure of governance and political leadership here in New York City and we refuse to stand by idly while public housing is left to rot from within,” he said.