NYCHA needs to address issues contributing to a lack of public safety at its properties, a group of Bronx political leaders said in a report released Monday.
The report, titled “Safe at Home?”, was released by the Bronx NYCHA Task Force, made up of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Councilman Ritchie Torres, Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson and District Attorney Darcel D. Clark. The task force launched in January 2016 and held three public hearings to hear from residents of NYCHA properties about their concerns related to public safety.
“Serious crimes in NYCHA developments rose about 2.4 percent from 5,088 in 2015 to 5,211 in 2016, in contrast to a citywide drop of approximately four percent,” the report said.
While the Bronx has seen a 28 percent decrease in murders so far this year, NYCHA housing only saw a 4 percent decrease, the report said. The properties also had nearly 7,200 domestic violence reports between January and June this year, which is 7.6 percent of the citywide total in that time period, according to the data cited in the report.
There are more than 300 NYCHA housing developments, where more than 400,000 people live. Eighty-nine of those developments, with nearly 44,300 apartments, are in the Bronx.
The release of the 28-page report came just days after three senior managers resigned or were demoted following an investigation that revealed the agency failed to conduct inspections for lead paint at about 55,000 apartments and filed false reports indicating that inspections had been completed.
“Given the ongoing issues facing NYCHA right now, the agency needs to take concrete steps towards getting its house in order and ensuring the health and safety of its residents,” Diaz said in a statement.
The task force made the following recommendations to improve public safety:
Better address repairs and manage finances: The task force reported that at each of the hearings, there were concerns about how quickly NYCHA addresses repairs. The report also referenced the Department of Investigation report about the fake lead paint inspections.
“Uninhabitable units are a public safety issue,” the report said. “NYCHA has been in constant violation of housing laws for decades, and, as the country’s largest residential landlord, it is time we hold them accountable.”
In addition to speeding up repairs, the task force recommends enhancing building security, installing blue light emergency call boxes and removing “zombie scaffolding,” or non-construction scaffolding, that is blocking security cameras and creating “a cloak of darkness for potentially illicit behavior.”
Establish mental wellness and community health centers: NYCHA developments should have on-site mental and physical health centers, the task force said. “… economic disadvantages are linked to higher levels of depression and mental illness among adults,” the report said. “Similar to adults, children living in poverty are at risk for experiencing trauma, increasing the likelihood of physical and mental illness, risk behaviors, and functioning challenges.”
The task force recommends the city make agreements with medical and mental wellness providers to “make it financially possible for them to stay at NYCHA long-term.”
Support diversion programs: To address over-incarceration, the task force recommends diversion programs that are an alternative to jail. The programs aim to provide offenders with strategies to avoid repeating the offense. “For example, participants and community members in one type of diversion program participate in a discussion about the offender’s actions on the larger community and reflect on individual and group accountability,” the report said.
Incentivize youth participation in community leadership and set up youth-driven events: While teens are involved in some committees on public safety, the task force said youth involvement needs to be more widespread. It recommends giving younger residents more reason to participate by setting up events they can run, such as “a basketball tournament featuring a youth idol actively working against youth violence.” The teens must pledge to not engage in criminal activity and participate in discussions about public safety.
Expand the Summer Youth Employment Program to include all NYCHA residents ages 18-24 and provide all youth with daily evening programming: These programs are aimed at preventing kids from joining gangs, the task force said. “While the existing School’s Out NYC afterschool program is tailored towards 6, 7, and 8th graders, there should also be widely available programming for high school students available to NYCHA residents,” the report said.
Align facilities and service centers with the population at each development: The task force said the services offered at NYCHA properties need to align with the specific needs of the resident. “The demographics at each development require diverse programming to meet the needs of the community,” it wrote in the report. These services can include senior centers, childcare and religious services.
Design a development-by-development approach to program design: Similarly to the last recommendation, this would make programing more tailored to the needs of the residents. “In addition to having residents inform programming through surveys, NYCHA should work with existing community centers to sponsor community programming development competitions, where residents can work on problem solving together, to create more of an internal buy-in and increase community participation,” the report said.
In response to the report, NYCHA cited is 10-year plan to preserve public housing, Next Generation NYCHA, which launched in 2015.
“Since the launch of NextGeneration NYCHA, repair times have dropped from 12 days to 4 days and mold complaints are down 3 percent,” a spokesperson said. “Our residents deserve better and we have lots of work still to do to deliver on making safe, clean, connected homes a reality for every NYCHA resident.”
The agency has also requested data so it can respond more specifically to the claims in the report.