NYCHA tenants are planning a rally to promote the appointment of César de Castro as an ombudsperson to oversee mold remediation and prevention in public housing ahead of a court hearing Friday to weigh candidates for the position.
De Castro, a former prosecutor, has garnered support from plaintiffs in the 2013 case against NYCHA originally waged by tenants with asthma over the authority’s handling of mold. They contend that he is willing to take a more hands-on approach, is familiar with the New York City Housing Authority, speaks Spanish fluently and has agreed to serve for $250 an hour — less than half his typical rate — according to a legal memo from attorneys for the plaintiffs.
As of the most recent quarter — May through July — NYCHA had 100,760 mold- and leak-work orders, which on average were open for 181 days, according to Stout Risius Ross, a commissioned data analyst firm. The quarter concluded with 29,914, or nearly 30% pending, and with no work done on 27,836 or about 28% of the work orders, in many cases because NYCHA did not acknowledge a problem, Stout Risius Ross’ analysis said.
U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley III, who will preside over the hearing Friday, approved a settlement agreement last fall that called for hiring third parties to conduct data and mold analysis and serve as an ombudsperson. With the two analyst firms in place, tenants say it is time to expedite the appointment of an ombudsperson and push the authority closer to abating relatively basic mold and excessive moisture complaints within seven days and more complex ones within 15 days, as required by the settlement.
“Thanks to all of our efforts, NYCHA has a system where they can deal properly with mold and leaks,” read a statement by the Rev. Getulio Cruz, pastor of Monte Sion Christian Church and a leader of Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, a group of houses of worship and nonprofits that have been working with the plaintiffs. "Unfortunately, the vast majority of tenants have seen no real improvement. We are confident that Mr. César de Castro, a criminal defense attorney and former Assistant District Attorney, will use the powers of the Ombudsperson to effectively force NYCHA to make repairs …"
The legal memo submitted by the plaintiffs notes that Stout Risius Ross has outlined plans to launch a call center for complaints from NYCHA residents about leaks, molds and other moisture. The goal is to get the ombudsperson in place during the initial stages of the call center, which will begin at the Jefferson Houses in East Harlem, before expanding citywide.
Metro IAF said NYCHA also must move on fixing roof fans and cleaning vents, which it set aside $50 million for last spring, but has not yet spent. Analysis filed by mold experts indicates malfunctioning fans and vents contribute to mold in some apartments.
NYCHA is prioritizing the bidding and award of a contract to permanently address ventilation issues, according to Michael Giardina, an authority spokesman.
“NYCHA has been working collaboratively with all plaintiffs and with the Court appointed Special Master to find and fix mold root causes and improve resident homes," Giardina said in a statement. "New mold remediation procedures have already been implemented, with thousands of frontline staff receiving training and improved tracking of completed work orders.”