Cuomo Demands Independent Oversight After NYCHA Tour


Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) yesterday called for the State Department of Health (DOH) to commence an immediate investigation into New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complexes and assess any violations on the premises.

The order followed Cuomo making good on a NYCHA tenants offer for the governor to tour a development in the Bronx. After, the tour Cuomo called the living conditions “disgusting” and committed himself to improving the living conditions of the city’s 390,000 public housing residents.

NYCHA has been fighting multiple controversies in recent months including fraudulent lead inspections and a heating crisis that left over 80 percent of public housing residents without heat or hot water during the Winter.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

“I accepted the tenants’ invitation today to tour NYCHA facilities and I stand firmly with the residents. I have been through NYCHA housing many times over many years. It is much, much worse than anything I have ever seen before. There is no doubt the tenants are right and the conditions have gotten much, much worse recently,” said Cuomo.

Additionally, Cuomo noted the lack of effective progress by NYCHA to make any repairs or improvements to the 150 developments across the city citing recent million dollar funding. 

“Money is not now the answer. The problem is NYCHA incompetence because they cannot effectively or quickly spend the money, and the situation is critical and urgent. NYCHA informed us that it would take 3 or 4 years to spend the money and make the repairs. That is a nonstarter. We don’t need $200 million to sit on a shelf. We need immediate progress and solutions, not press release progress or political finger pointing. I want a solution for the children of NYCHA now,” said Cuomo.

Mayor Bill de Blasio

In January, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $200 million investment to replace boilers and upgrade the heating systems at 20 NYCHA developments experiencing chronic outages. However, the funding is not expected to kick in until 2019 and will be invested over three years and not all at once.

The tour comes off the heels of a lawsuit filed against the city last week by residents who are accusing NYCHA of “years of neglect” and “systemic violations of the law,” according to reports.

Late last month, the Citywide Council of Presidents (CCOP), made up of the leaders of resident associations at different public housing developments, demanded an independent monitor to oversee NYCHA as part of the lawsuit.

The tour was not well received by all. City Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood) was quick to note the lack of state funding for the ailing authority and claimed Cuomo’s tour was simply a publicity stunt.

City Councilmember Jumaane Williams

“New York State can and must be a real partner in improving NYCHA, but NYCHA funding directly from the state has fallen significantly under this Governor. I truly hope that the next time an elected official takes a publicity tour, they also bring with them a check,” said Williams, who is running for lieutenant governor this year.

Coincidently, the state assembly yesterday passed design-build authority legislation that would expedite projects, allowing critical repairs and improvements to public housing to take effect in shorter periods of time. The new measure amends the previous “design-bid-build” method that included waiting and approving a bid for construction before breaking ground on a construction project.

De Blasio was quick to hail the bill passage and pushed for more state legislators to support NYCHA during its current crisis.

“Today, they passed a bill giving NYCHA full design-build authority that will speed up critical repairs by more than a year. The rest of Albany needs to follow the Assembly’s lead: stop playing games and promoting gimmicks. Deliver the key investments and reforms NYCHA tenants are waiting for,” said de Blasio.

Cuomo announced at the end of his tour that he will declare a State of Emergency on NYCHA and has set an April 1 deadline for the city to enact an independent oversight mechanism to handle the mismanaged funds. A deadline he hopes will mark the beginning of a new future for the embattled authority so that the state can inject funding into the system.

“If they do not make any progress by April 1, the budget deadline, I will put forth a solution but believe the decision is better left to local authorities. Once an independent mechanism is chosen and we know money will be spent in a timely way—not 3 to 4 years—the sate will make $200 million available immediately,” added Cuomo.

NYCHA tenants applauded Cuono’s action and for the states intervention for getting them the improvements they believe they deserve.

“It’s sad that it took a lawsuit to get the elected officials to pay attention. Now that our cries are being heard, I am looking forward to real action and solutions to our problems. There is much work to be done and residents must be included in the decision-making process as well as oversight,” said Charlene Nimmons, founder of community-based organization Public Housing Communities and former president of Wyckoff Gardens Tenant Association.