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Carson says he’s in no rush to give funds to NYCHA and Puerto Rico, citing possible corruption

HUD Secretary Ben Carson talked about Puerto Rico and NYCHA flanked by Regional Director Lynne Patton. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson said he is in “no rush” to flood earth-quake ravaged Puerto Rico and beleaguered NYCHA with money as it might disappear through corruption.

Puerto Rico is currently trying to recover with their second earthquake in as many weeks on top of the 2017 damage from Hurricane Maria. Nearly $18 billion has been allocated by Congress to help the island commonwealth of the United States. And NYCHA is struggling to keep heat and hot water working during the winter months.

Carson addressed both nagging issues at a press conference following the grand opening of the Harlem-based Envision Center, where he promoted that program to bring services to NYCHA residents to “lift them up and make them self-sufficient.”

Carson listened as Allyson Casado sang both the National Anthem and then, the anthem of Puerto Rico. He said that despite the problems in Puerto Rico, they should not just pour money in without making sure it goes to the right place.

“We’ve been working diligently for years, but you have to remember that Puerto Rico was over $80 billion in default with a long history corruption and three governors in the space of one month,” Carson pointed out. “If we threw a lot of money into that environment, Congress would’ve said ‘why did you do that and you knew problems were going on, but you put hard working tax payer money into that environment.’ There would’ve been endless inquires into that so our focus is on the potential for Puerto Rico and it can become the jewel of Caribbean – we can have all kinds of economic development and the resources are there. We have to make sure they are used in the proper way.”

New York City this week sent 28 city agency workers to help the population recover from the earthquake and Governor Andrew Cuomo traveled to the island to offer his assistance.

“People keep asking ‘why have we taken so long?’ Because this is largest amount of money ever given and it’s going to a place with a long history of corruption. This is a new program with a mitigation program and has not done before on this scale. There are a lot of new things going on there and our focus is on the positive,” Carson said.

On NYCHA, Carson said there have been significant improvement of the operation of the housing developments, but more must be done “properly.”

Carson said he is in no rush to pour funds into NYCHA without proper oversight. He stated conditions are far better than it was last year, when a large percentage of housing was without heat and hot water from different amounts of time, and that they have changed a lot of management.

“The team at NYCHA seems to be working much better together and there is real cooperation and I’m hearing about far fewer problems now than I heard a year ago,” Carson said. “A year ago, there was a big issue of whether NYCHA should be taken into receivership and I think that would’ve been a disaster. I’m happy to see the progress that has been made – I think we have the right kind of team an oversight in place.”

Lynne Patton, regional administrator for HUD said the administration currently spends $30 million per week on capital funds for NYCHA housing and has increased that budget by 4 percent. She also questioned the city assessment that it would cost $180,000 per unit to fully rehab NYCHA housing.

“This is a number determined by a third party vendor hired by city –  $180,0000 per unit – and it is questioned by private developers and by housing experts in the city who have no agenda what so ever,” Patton said. “If I went to my private landlord today and told him to invest $180,000 into my apartment,  I think they’d look at me like I was crazy. That is a number to be determined by the federal monitor, he will have independent forensic accountants examining what the are the true capital needs of NYCHA are.”

HUD Regional Director Lynne Patton talks about doing the job right with NYCHA.(Photo by Todd Maisel)

In the meantime, Patton said they have taken steps to weed out corruption in management and to “change the culture that was complete mismanagement in this agency or it will continue.”

“The residents will start to see the trickle down effect from the new management as we are constantly firing and hiring people behind the scenes,” Patton said. “We are constantly hiring and creating new offices for health and safety and environmental safety, and that has happened. We have action plans for all of the five plagued areas,  – heat and hot water has been submitted and approved.”

Carson promised that the “appropriate amount of money will be designated to NYCHA.”

“We have to rehabilitate the housing so that it doesn’t continue to have the same problems and so we don’t have to keep paying the same money, year after year,” Carson said. “Now whether it is $40bil or $2bil or $500mil it depends on how you portion it out and what your roles are. The appropriate amount of money will be designated. Throwing more money at the problem, that does not solve it – there is only so much money and it doesn’t grow on trees.”

Breaking News: Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer released the following statement regarding news reports that the Trump administration would lift a hold on long delayed disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico from the Department of Housing and Urban Development:

 “While the president has heeded our calls to lift the blockade on some of the disaster-aid funding for our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico, it’s not nearly enough. We will continue to fight this administration’s unnecessary bureaucratic barriers from causing any further delay in disbursing these funds to Puerto Rico. We will also continue pushing for the additional appropriated funds that are still senselessly held up. These funds must be put to use as Congress intended: to rebuild the island. Now, in response to the spate of disastrous earthquakes, President Trump must quickly approve the governor’s request for FEMA’s comprehensive disaster assistance, which I fully support. There is no excuse for not doing all we can to help our fellow Americans confront and recover from disasters.”

Todd Maisel