Congressmembers call for a forensic audit of city housing

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Members of Congress seek answers. (Gloria Pazmino)
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At a meeting with labor leaders in Chelsea this morning, four members of Congress called on a new crop of citywide officials to address the problems at the New York City Housing Authority.

“We've had a new election, we have a new mayor, we have a new comptroller, a new public advocate, and will have new head of the public housing authority,” said congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who was joined at the meeting by colleagues Jerry Nadler, Yvette Clarke, and Grace Meng.

“We have questions,” she added.

Among the group's questions were how the agency is spending the money it receives from the federal government, including a reported $1 billion that had been allocated for repairs, but was instead being reserved by the agency.

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“We want to know why it's been reported that a billion dollars is not being spent,” said Maloney. “How can you be calling for privatization, contracting out, firing people, if you have a billion dollars that you're not even spending?”

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has vowed to replace NYCHA chairman John Rhea, and has promised to "rework the operational approach" at the agency, which was heavily criticized during this year's mayoral election for its stewardship of the city's public housing stock.

The group that met today asked the cty's comptroller's office to conduct a complete forensic audit of the agency, and discussed how the agency can improve its financial situation to better respond to the needs of residents.

“We were here before this chairman came into existence, we're gonna be here after the chairman has left,” said Greg Floyd, the president of Local 237. “We are forced to solve these problems, and we want to work with this new administration, and having a forensic audit will go a long way to figuring out what moneys we have and where we need to spend it, and what we can't spend and what we need going into the future.”

The union, which represents the majority of the city's housing authority workers, released its own report outlining an action plan for NYCHA, which is currently working through a three-year backlog of repairs.

“This three-year backlog in work orders, a lot of people think that the people who work for housing would have caused this problem,” said Floyd. “The fact is, the current chairman, has been the chairman for four years, we have a three-year backlog, so the fact is it only took him a year to mess things up.”

The city's public housing stock is funded in large part by the federal government, but union workers often complain they are not supplied with basic materials to provide repairs and complete jobs, and many construction and repair projects are eventually contracted out to independent companies.

“These workers are often saddled with a bureaucratic system that makes repairs longer, inefficient, and an impersonal costly process,” reads the report.

The group that met today also discussed how to improve the agency's finances, with Maloney suggesting they should start by filling the existing vacancies. 

The agency currently has a waiting a list with more than 167,000 families, with thousands of vacant apartments that are reportedly unrented.

“If there's 167,000 people that want to move in, that's revenue that would be coming in,” said Maloney, whose district includes the Queens Bridge Houses, the largest housing complex in the city. Maloney described the city's public housing stock as a “huge success” that's currently suffering from incompetent management practices and and a lack of leadership.

The members of Congress also talked about stopping the city's proposed plan to lease public housing land to developers.

“We need more public space, I'm don’t want to be taking the playgrounds and the picnic areas of the residents. ... We have a lawsuit coming on this and we are deeply concerned about it,” said Maloney.

Maloney said that the group had put in a call to the office of city comptroller John Liu, as well as comptroller-elect Scott Stringer, who is currently in Puerto Rico for the Somos conference.

“They are interested,” said Maloney.