Gov. Andrew Cuomo emerged from a tour of a New York City Housing Authority project in the South Bronx on Monday and pledged to launch an investigation into the hazardous conditions that include mold, vermin and peeling paint.
After trading barbs with Mayor Bill de Blasio about conditions at NYCHA in recent weeks, Cuomo challenged de Blasio, the City Council and the state Legislature to guide him on how to remedy conditions at NYCHA within two weeks — or said he would take action on his own.
“The situation we have seen is as upsetting and disturbing as anything I have seen anywhere, and I’ve been through public housing all across the country,” said Cuomo, who previously worked for the federal agency overseeing public housing. “It is just shocking that in New York State, we would have people subjected to these conditions. On behalf of the people of the state, I apologize to the NYCHA residents.”
Cuomo said he was scheduled Tuesday to meet with City Council members, some of whom have joined with NYCHA residents in urging him to enact a state of emergency.
The governor told reporters he had “no problem” declaring a state of emergency, but wanted to work with other lawmakers to ensure such a step would ease NYCHA’s woes.
City officials, however, argued Cuomo’s administration had missed opportunities to assist the cash-strapped public housing authority.
The state should work to release $200 million in funding that was allocated to NYCHA in last year’s budget, but which it has not yet received, Dean Fuleihan, the city’s first deputy mayor, said at a City Hall news conference. Fuleihan also urged the state to match the additional $200 million the city recently earmarked for NYCHA in the upcoming state budget.
The city supports a bill, passed by the State Assembly Monday, that would allow NYCHA to use the design-build model, which streamlines projects by combining the design and construction stages into one contract. Cuomo said he supports that idea.
Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said the de Blasio administration has invested $2.1 billion in NYCHA repairs and helped the agency secure an additional $1.6 billion in operating funding — so the state needed to do its part.
“Some folks are conflating the notion of an emergency declaration with some magic cure-all . . . by issuing an emergency declaration that in essence gives us the money they were supposed to give us a year-and-a-half ago,” Glen said. “I don’t see how that’s an emergency declaration; that’s doing your job.”
Back in November, the city’s Department of Investigation reported that NYCHA submitted false certifications for lead paint inspections in recent years. Three senior officials resigned from NYCHA shortly after.
The city has since completed inspections and fulfilled all related requests to repaint 7,219 of 8,920 apartments where there may be lead that could endanger residents who are six or younger, the mayor’s office said.
The winter has been particularly tough at NYCHA, given that 80 percent of tenants have found themselves without heat and hot water at some point, according to a recent City Hall investigation.
In response, de Blasio said last week the city would spend $200 million expediting major heating upgrades at 20 public housing developments within eight to 20 months.
Elected representatives of NYCHA tenants sued the housing authority in late February, alleging residents had suffered years of neglect under “systemic violations of the law.”
Cuomo toured several units at the Jackson Houses with state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., City Councilman Ritchie Torres and other officials.
Zucker called the conditions “shameful” and claimed he had seen evidence of mold, vermin and potentially hazardous paint peeling off the walls.
Jeffrey Blyther, 42, used a motorized scooter to show Cuomo around his home, where a leak caused him to slip and injure his back.
Beyond leaks, Blyther said his apartment has roaches and chipping paint.
“He’s the first person I’ve gotten help from — a straight answer — (from) in four years,” Blyther said.
Outside the Jackson Houses, Cuomo dismissed questions about whether he purposely scheduled the tour when de Blasio was in Washington, D.C., for a conference with fellow mayors.
“I don’t know where the mayor is, and that’s none of my business,” Cuomo said.
With Nicole Brown