U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley III approved a revised settlement agreement Thursday between NYCHA and residents with asthma who signed onto a 2013 class action lawsuit accusing the public housing authority of failing to eradicate mold.
In an opinion issued Thursday, Pauley said he believed the new settlement would be more successful than one hammered out in 2014, which the New York City Housing Authority violated almost immediately.
The judge highlighted provisions in the new agreement that allow the court to supervise the matter until NYCHA has demonstrated its compliance and that introduce an independent data analyst, an independent mold analyst and an ombudsperson tasked with addressing tenant concerns.
"The Court concludes that requiring NYCHA to address mold reoccurrence explicitly and to implement revised protocols and procedures with the Special Master and Independent Mold Analyst’s assistance is suitably tailored to NYCHA’s worsening mold reoccurrence rate and NYCHA’s excuse that the Consent Decree did not include any formal obligation to address mold reoccurrence," Pauley noted in the document.
Rather than litigate the matter, NYCHA opted to settle the 2013 lawsuit months after it was filed. Under the original agreement, NYCHA pledged to abate relatively basic mold and excessive moisture complaints within seven days and more complex ones within 15 days.
When progress dragged, residents appealed to the court, which in 2015 appointed a special master to oversee the creation of new procedures and protocols to deal with pervasive mold issues, according to Pauley’s opinion. Then in February, NYCHA said it could not fully implement its new "Mold Busters" program until 2020, long after the settlement was scheduled to expire on April 17, 2018. So the plaintiffs said they would seek relief from the court, unless NYCHA agreed to a revised settlement, according to the opinion.
After months of negotiations and further revisions, Pauley accepted the new agreement.
His decision was heralded by Metro IAF, a collection of houses of worship and nonprofits working to improve the city. Two of its member organizations, Manhattan Together and South Bronx Churches, worked with tenants on the lawsuit.
"The ombudsperson and the other strong independent oversight that will now be put in place will mean that public housing tenants in my congregation and all throughout New York will have a fighting chance of living in mold-free apartments,” the Rev. Getulio Cruz, pastor of Monte Sion Christian Church on the Lower East Side and a leader in Metro IAF, said in a statement. “Metro IAF tenant and community leaders, as well as our excellent legal team, will work with this court-supervised oversight and through all other possible means, to ensure NYCHA implements its promises to finally fix mold and leaks."
NYCHA’s interim chair, Stanley Brezenoff, also praised the settlement.
“Today’s decision represents important progress in our mold remediation and abatement efforts," Brezenoff said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing our work with the plaintiffs to improve the health and safety of our residents’ homes.”