Housing Authority to fork over billions to settle housing claims

Justice at last?

(New York, NY) — The nation’s largest public housing agency will surrender billions of dollars to settle claims that it lied to the federal government about squalid conditions in units housing low-income residents and their children, federal prosecutors said Monday.

US Attorney Geoffrey Berman (AP)

“Today marks the beginning of the end of the nightmare for these residents,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who also detailed the complaints in an 80-page federal court filing, said at a news conference.

The settlement comes at the conclusion of a 31-month investigation that found widespread mismanagement at the New York City Housing Authority, which has received thousands of complaints each year about broken elevators, insufficient heat, mold, and pest problems.

“NYCHA has repeatedly made false statements to HUD and the public regarding these issues and has deceived (U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department) inspectors,” the federal complaint filed in Manhattan Federal Court asserts. “The people who suffer as a result of NYCHA’s misconduct are its residents, including lead-poisoned children, elderly residents without heat in winter, asthma sufferers whose condition is worsened by mold and pest-infested apartments, and disabled residents without functioning elevators.”

Berman accused NYCHA and the city Health Department of understating the amounts of lead poisoning in children living in public housing units and choosing not to correctly count the number of people testing positive for blood-lead levels considered dangerous by the federal government.

“These conditions are an assault on the health, safety and dignity of hardworking, rent-paying residents, and these violations will no longer be tolerated,” Berman said. “Today marks the beginning of the end of this nightmare for NYCHA residents.”

The settlement requires that NYCHA pay at least $1 billion annually for four years and then $200 million every year until the conditions are improved at a satisfactory level.

“I think the federal government owes them an apology. Recent administrations going back 30 years owe them an apology. I think the state government owes them an apology, also going back decades. I think the city government owes the apology. My administration and I will offer an apology. But the administration before me should offer an apology, too,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who denied claims he was forced into contributing city money toward the settlements.

In a statement, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said the “historic agreement marks a new era for New York City’s public housing, one that puts families and their children first.”

It should be noted that Carson unveiled a plan to increase rent for low-income public housing residents on April 25 in a legislative proposal entitled the Making Affordable Housing Work Act.

In an April 30 statement, the New York City Housing Authority said that the HUD proposal, which would increase public housing residents’ rent from 30 percent of their gross income to 35 percent, would affect around 55,000 of the agency’s two-unit households, and that over 35,000 publicly housed seniors could experience increased rent costs as well.

All of this comes amid an affordability crisis in New York City and a period of remarkable tumult for NYCHA, which houses around 400,000 people. The agency’s embattled chair, Shola Olatoye, stepped down in early April over the controversy surrounding the lawsuit against the agency by attorney Jim Walden over squalid housing unit conditions.

“We have fallen short in some areas that are frustrating for me, for our residents, and for our city as a whole,” said Olatoye on April 10, when she officially announced her resignation.

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