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NEW YORK CITY—As the former head of HUD and secretary of HUD, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has seen public housing in every state. “The conditions I’ve seen here in NYCHA are some of the worst I have seen anywhere and the shame is NYCHA at one time was the model of public housing,” said the governor at a rally at the Taft housing project in East Harlem on Saturday. “It has gone from best to the worst.”
He compared Taft Houses to “a bad Dickens novel,” where the heat goes on and off and children are living with asthma in units with mold. He said the city could not claim to be the progressive capitol of the country with people living in the filth of New York City Housing Authority homes.
Gov. Cuomo promised to fight for the New York State Legislature to add $250 million into the state budget. The state has already committed $300 million to NYCHA but the additional $250 million would address health and safety hazards. He emphasized the state has no legal obligation to fund NYCHA and the city is responsible for management of the units.
But the state would provide the additional funding due to insufficient federal and city funds. The money would improve conditions including ensuring heat and hot water, and removing decades-old mold and lead paint.
The governor also urged for an independent construction manager, separate from NYCHA to address the repairs. Heating, mold, structural repairs, filth, garbage and rats were at the top of the lists of tenants’ grievances from the signs and photos attendees held up at the rally.
Finally, Gov. Cuomo supported tenant oversight of projects with meaningful jobs, allowing residents’ voices in policy-making and priority decisions for NYCHA units. Section 3 of the Housing and Urban Development Act requires NYCHA to share economic opportunities with tenants through employment in connection with the billions of dollars of federally funded projects in their communities, according to Jim Walden, a partner at Walden, Macht & Haran.
Last month, Walden’s firm filed a lawsuit against NYCHA on behalf of the Citywide Council of Presidents, the governing body of NYCHA’s tenant community, and At-Risk Community Services, alleging health and safety violations, falsification of records and the misappropriation of public funds.
The city council’s oversight and investigations committee reported that in this winter alone 323,098 NYCHA tenants were left without heat, leaving more than 80% of tenants cold, according to the plaintiffs’ firm. NYCHA has approximately an $8 billion annual budget. CCOP and Gov. Cuomo had declared a state of emergency over NYCHA.
Last week, after touring the Andrew Jackson Houses in the Bronx, Gov. Cuomo described the conditions as “disgusting,” “intolerable” and the “most egregious” that he had ever seen. He called upon the city to create an action plan within two weeks or else he would decide how to move forward. That same day the state assembly passed design-build, allowing a single contract to provide for both design and construction, which will speed up repairs.
In addition to the governor, Walden, CCOP chair Danny Barber, New York city councilman Ritchie Torres, New York state assemblyman Robert Rodriguez and New York State Sen. Brian Benjamin spoke at the event.
Barber reminded the residents of Taft Houses that there are 400,000 residents in public housing and 200,000 in Section 8 housing and they can determine who to put into office.
Betsy Kim is the bureau chief, East Coast, and New York City reporter for Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com. As a lawyer and journalist, Betsy has worked as the director of editorial and content for LexisNexis Lawyers.com, a TV/multi-media journalist for NBC and CBS affiliated TV stations in the Midwest, and an associate producer at Court TV.
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