The New York City Housing Authority’s public image took another hit. The agency that was supposed to help improve public housing conditions covered up the problems instead, according to a lawsuit the federal government announced against NYCHA on Monday.
New York must invest at least $2.2 billion into housing projects over the next five years, but US Attorney Geoffrey Berman also said unidentified individuals could face criminal charges going back as far as at least 2010.
NYCHA managers used lies and deception to cover up the squalid condition of public housing. They also filed false documents, tricked federal inspectors and betrayed the 400,000 tenants who have long endured heartbreaking conditions and the growing sense that nothing will ever change.
“These conditions are an assault on the health, safety and dignity of hardworking, rent-paying residents, and these violations will no longer be tolerated,” Berman said. “Today marks the beginning of the end of this nightmare for NYCHA residents.
Berman said that the authority lied about issues including mold infestation and rat burrows. He said NYCHA underplayed how bad the lead poisoning of children in public housing really was. NYCHA didn’t even count the people affected by lead, which can cause irreversible brain damage and is not considered safe at any level of exposure.
The New York Post detailed other tactics that included shutting off water service to entire buildings in Brooklyn and the Bronx to hide leaking pipes. Workers locked basement rooms with “dangerous or unsanitary conditions,” then posted signs saying, “Danger: Do Not Enter,” to keep inspectors out, the feds said. The suit also said that workers stuffed paper or cork into wall holes and then painted over them instead of just fixing them. One ex-NYCHA manager made workers use foam spray to mask holes. Workers had a “Quick Fix Tips” list that they would use to make last-minute cover-ups to deceive federal inspectors.
The NY Daily News reports that Berman won’t bring criminal charges against the authority itself, but did not rule out pursuing charges against individual NYCHA managers or staff.
“These problems exist, these conditions exist, not because of any loss of federal funding, but because NYCHA was a dysfunctional operation and is fundamentally flawed and engaged in a culture of false statements and concealment,” Berman said.
“My blood was boiling,” Berman said of first learning of the findings.
Mayor Bill deBlasio said he still stands by his beliefs last year that no children were harmed from malfeasance.
“Based on the information I had at the time, what I said I absolutely believed to be accurate,” he said Monday.
“I’m not changing that statement until I have facts otherwise.”
By: Michael Eric Rosenthal