NYCHA tenants sue housing authority after ‘years of neglect’

NYCHA's Citywide Council of Presidents sued the housing authority Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. Above, CCOP chair Danny Barber speaks at a news conference on the steps of City Hall announcing the lawsuit.
NYCHA’s Citywide Council of Presidents sued the housing authority Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. Above, CCOP chair Danny Barber speaks at a news conference on the steps of City Hall announcing the lawsuit. Photo Credit: Colter Hettich

The elected representatives of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) tenants filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging “years of neglect” and “systemic violations of the law.”

The Citywide Council of Presidents (CCOP), made up of the leaders of resident associations at different public housing developments, is demanding an independent monitor to oversee NYCHA.

“NYCHA should see today as the dawn of a new era,” Danny Barber, the chair of CCOP, said. “Mayor (Bill) de Blasio ran his campaign on a ‘tale of two cities,’ but his administration has completely forgotten about New York City’s poorest members.”

The group pointed to the revelations that NYCHA submitted false certifications for lead paint inspections in recent years and that 80 percent of NYCHA tenants, or more than 323,000 residents, went without heat or hot water at some point this winter as examples of how NYCHA has allegedly failed to protect the health and safety of its tenants.

It also claims the agency is not fulfilling a Department of Housing and Urban Development mandate to hire tenants for federally funded projects in their communities, which is required under the HUD Act of 1968.

Under the act, at least 30 percent of all hires must be Section 3 residents, who are residents of NYCHA or low- or very low-income residents; at least 10 percent of the federal funding for construction contracts must be awarded to Section 3 businesses, which are businesses majority-owned by Section 3 residents or whose employees are at least 30 percent Section 3 residents; and at least 3 percent of the federal funding for non-construction contracts must be awarded to Section 3 businesses.

The lawsuit includes examples from NYCHA reports showing it did not meet these percentages in recent years. For example, in 2016, more than $150 million in construction contracts were awarded with funds from HUD’s Capital Fund Program, but only 0.04 percent of that, or $60,857, went to Section 3 businesses, the suit says.

According to the lawsuit, a HUD official in 2014 said, “NYCHA would get shut down” if HUD audited its Section 3 compliance.

Since May 2015, NYCHA “has facilitated over 8,200 resident job placements, through job-training, union apprenticeship programs and home business courses,” said Jasmine Blake, acting press secretary at NYCHA.

But CCOP members and NYCHA tenants say that number does not represent how many residents are actually being employed.

“The law is about self-sufficiency,” said Charlene Nimmons, a NYCHA resident leader. “You can’t become self-sufficient off of training. You need a job to be self-sufficient.”

Outside City Hall Tuesday, Councilman Ritchie Torres, the chairman of the council’s oversight and investigations committee, said he supports CCOP’s lawsuit.

“The regrettable fact is that both the administration and NYCHA are in denial about the depth of the housing authority’s dysfunction and mismanagement,” he said. “The people who are paying the heavy price for their denial are the residents who live in public housing.”

The CCOP lawsuit comes a day after the Independent Democratic Conference of the State Senate released a report comparing health concerns among NYCHA tenants to the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, with Sen. Jeff Klein saying “NYCHA is the new Flint.” The IDC surveyed 227 NYCHA residents throughout the five boroughs, and 79 percent of them said “NYCHA did nothing when lead paint was discovered in their apartments.”

Department of Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said the senators who released the report are “playing politics with public health.”

“Comparing New York — a national success story in reducing lead exposure — to Flint is alarmist and wrong,” she said in a statement. “Exposure rates among children in New York City has fallen 87 percent since 2005, and they are even lower among kids in public housing.”

NYCHA’s lead inspections in 2017 were conducted by a certified vendor, a city hall representative added.