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At Brooklyn Town Hall, Angry NYCHA Residents Told to Vote as a Bloc

superstorm sandy aftermath

(photo via NYCHA)

The myriad issues plaguing the New York City Housing Authority came to the fore at a town hall on Wednesday night, with NYCHA residents excoriating public officials and officials scrambling to respond.

The town hall, hosted by BRIC TV at its downtown Brooklyn studio, featured an audience mainly consisting of NYCHA residents and a panel of City Council Members Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Ritchie Torres, NYCHA tenant leader Lisa Kenner, New York Daily News reporter Greg Smith, and NYCHA historian Nicholas Dagen Bloom, along with a short pre-recorded interview with city Comptroller Scott Stringer. The event was moderated by BRIC’s Brian Vines.

The issues affecting NYCHA, including but not limited to an alleged cover-up relating to lead paint in apartments, approximately $32 billion in unmet capital needs, and a lack of transparency in management have hung low over the de Blasio administration for the past year. The city, beginning in the Bloomberg Administration, was revealed to have falsified documents submitted to the federal government relating to lead paint inspections in apartments, setting off an additionally intensified period of controversy beyond what was already been a mountain of challenges and persistent struggles for the authority to provide adequate housing and find the revenue needed to upgrade its deteriorating housing stock, which includes roughly 180,000 units across the city, home to about 400,000 New Yorkers.

The Daily News reported in June that the de Blasio administration had used a blood-lead level benchmark significantly higher than the federal standard, resulting in only 19 children living in NYCHA being identified as having elevated lead levels; by the federal standards, 820 children in NYCHA had elevated levels, a number revised to over 1,100 in August. And last winter, hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents were left without working heat and hot water because of defective boilers in critical need of repair.

A federal consent decree, which has yet to be formalized by a judge, would have New York City spend $2 billion on critical repairs and appoint a federal monitor to oversee the ailing Housing Authority. The judge has yet to name a monitor. In practice, the deadline has been extended twice by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, first from July 11 to September 12, and then from September 12 to whatever date the judge formalizes the consent decree.

When tenants testified in court about NYCHA conditions on September 26, the judge, William Pauley, expressed shock at their stories, and has been hesitant to approve the consent decree without changes.

Several speakers had been personally affected by the lead paint scandal, with their children facing the possibility of lifelong repercussions as a result of the lead-infested apartments they spent their formative years in.

“Y’all exposed them to lead dust and continue to disrespect me and violate me,” said Lynone Faison, a resident of the Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene whose child was exposed to lead. Faison said she would prefer living on the street to living in her apartment, but was refraining from doing so because she was worried that ACS would take her children.

“I’m not going to let you just keep walking all over us. I look at you two,” she said, referring to Ampry-Samuel and Torres, the elected officials on the panel, “I’m telling you snakes, you all need to be fired. You all need to be fired. I’m sorry, but you need to be fired, you’re not helping me.”

Another woman, a former resident of the Al Smith Houses on the Lower East Side, detailed how her son had been exposed to lead during her pregnancy; she left NYCHA after giving birth, when the woman she and her husband had been caring for passed away and the city evicted them. She also referenced the stark inequality that has been spotlighted in the development’s vicinity.

“Our children are seeing these rapid changes happening in the world, and they are being told that they are not part of it,” she said. “So we want to ask questions, you know, we want to ask questions. When will our children be part of it? If these developments are happening -- within months, they’re renovating houses. I mean, what on earth, months it takes to renovate a house, but years and years of lead poisoning [in NYCHA]. I mean, this is a genocide here.”

Ampry-Samuel is the current chair of the Public Housing Committee, and Torres is a former chair of that committee and the current chair of the Oversight Committee, which has looked into NYCHA and helped reveal some of the recent issues that have come to light. Both grew up in NYCHA housing, Ampry-Samuel in Brownsville and Torres in Throggs Neck, and relayed their experiences in public housing frequently throughout the hearing.

“I don’t believe or have faith that anyone cares about us at all,” Ampry-Samuel told the woman from Al Smith Houses. “As an elected official, it’s difficult, but I can speak my truth and I can speak what I’ve seen because I’m not worried about my next election. I’m not worried about the next office that I’m gonna run for because I’m just worried about how I’m gonna, in a sense, protect the people, protect my people. And when I look at the mayor’s housing plan, and I look at all these infill deals, at no point at all do they take into consideration the NYCHA voice.”

Infill is the controversial process by which the city is allowing private development on NYCHA land to create new housing, some of it affordable, as well as new revenue for NYCHA.

Despite their ties to NYCHA and efforts to provide oversight, the politicians in the room were heavily criticized as detached from conditions on the ground, taking home a $150,000 salary, and being funded by real estate interests. Questioners repeatedly expressed derision at the panelists not answering their questions, even those on the panel who are not politicians. The frustration of the NYCHA residents characterized the mood of the event.

“How do they get to go forward with RAD or infill when they’re under a federal investigation,” asked Karen Blondell, a resident of Red Hook Houses since 1982. RAD refers to Rental Assistance Demonstration, an Obama-era program that privatizes building management and changes ownership of the property to a public-private partnership, with funding coming from Section 8 vouchers rather than Section 9 public housing subsidies. One complex, the Ocean Bay Apartments in Rockaway, has undergone full RAD conversion. Initial results have appeared somewhat promising in the city, and elected officials have praised the use of the program, though many residents are worried that the program is de facto privatization of public housing.

Ampry-Samuel has been supportive of the RAD program in the past and has sided with the de Blasio administration on its expansion. However, she agreed with Blondell that critical repairs must be made the top priority of the authority.

“I don’t think NYCHA should move forward with anything right now,” Ampry-Samuel said of major new programs, “because there’s questionable management, there’s questionable dealings, and if there’s any kind of investigation happening right now, if Judge Pauley is reviewing the consent decree, I don’t think they should be moving forward. What they can be doing is just making sure that they’re fixing the heat and hot water systems right now that are happening as we’re going into the heating season, and they can make sure they’re going into the apartments doing what they’re supposed to be doing with the lead abatements.”

Blondell replied that her apartment underwent a long-awaited lead inspection last week, but the “industrial hygienist” who showed up for the inspection was armed only with a flashlight.

“Come on now, come on, I could do better testing by sending away for a kit to the EPA,” she said.

In response, Torres signaled his critiques of the consent decree.

“There’s no evidence that more monitoring is going to improve public housing,” Torres said. “We’ve had a monitor for mold for five years, and we’re no closer to remediating mold in public housing.” A vocal critic of the mayor and his housing policies in particular, Torres said at the town hall that affordable housing under the mayor’s plans are not actually affordable for the people they’re intended for -- some have called for incorporating NYCHA into the larger city affordable housing plan so that it gets more attention and is more clearly approached as part of a valuable stock of rent-regulated apartments, or for at least more closely aligning affordable housing and NYCHA plans.

There have been ample calls for prosecutions of NYCHA officials involved in the lead scandal. Though NYCHA is under federal investigation and its offices have been raided by authorities, prosecutors have not announced any charges.

“When we as residents had to deal with zero tolerance from the Clinton administration to present time, how is it okay for NYCHA to have falsified, fraudulently reported about lead, mold, and everything else, and no one’s being criminally charged,” Blondel asked. Smith noted in response that an active criminal investigation into NYCHA is currently taking place to look into fraudulent lead paint filings.

One woman, a former tenants association president at Washington Houses in East Harlem, referred to tenants association leaders as “crooks.”

“That tenant participation activity money that was meant to be spent for us in these developments to create programs and things for our families and so forth, that’s HUD money, we don’t even know what’s happening with it. We was promised there was gonna be a hearing, that ain’t happened yet,” she said.

Kenner, the tenant leader, spoke in defense of tenants associations.

“As president, you do not get paid, you know, it’s a thankless job,” Kenner said. “But you live where you live, and you want better for your people and yourself.”

The woman from Washington Houses vociferously criticized the city government and the Council members, and advocated for direct action against the city as a means of securing tenants’ rights.

“The only way we’re gonna get justice is by shutting 250 Broadway down,” she said in reference to where main NYCHA and City Council offices are located.

Smith made a similar call later in the program, saying that the hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents should vote as a bloc.

“If NYCHA residents, there are 400,000 people who live in New York City housing. So if you have an organized effort to vote with one voice, you will have a voice that people will actually listen to,” Smith said. This message received a mixed response in the room, and Vines reiterated a point made earlier about how NYCHA residents did not have monolithic thoughts on all issues.

“NYCHA is not a monolith,” Vines said. “We’re not all of the same mind on everything. Is it going to take those 400,000-plus residents of NYCHA to become single-issue voters, regardless of what your politics may be, if your home comes first? Is that really a viable answer?”

To that question, Torres responded in the affirmative and endorsed Smith’s proposal.

“Of course,” Torres said. “What’s more important than your home? I mean, if the political leadership of the city has no regard for your basic living conditions, are refusing to provide you heat or hot water, or protect you from lead poisoning, or lying to you repeatedly, of course you should hold them accountable. And if I have a constituent who’s living in disrepair, I have an obligation to make sure they get their repairs. Of course I do. You should hold us accountable.”

Watch the full BRIC TV NYCHA town hall

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

What's The [Data] Point? 45, with Deputy Mayor for Operations Laura Anglin

whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 55 -- 45, Deputy Mayor for Operations Laura Anglin [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp with laura anglin maria ben

Laura Anglin was named Deputy Mayor for Operations by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who reestablished the position for her at the start of 2018 after he did not have a deputy mayor for operations during his frist term. Anglin, who has an extensive career in state government and the private sector, joined the podcast to discuss her role in the de Blasio administration and key projects she's working on. 

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 1

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Tuesday will mark five weeks until Election Day. The race for Governor has been heating up, with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, and Republican Marc Molinaro at the forefront of the discussion. Molinaro has been releasing tax reform proposals while Cuomo has largely continued to focus on President Donald Trump. Cuomo explained recently that he has done so and plans to continue to do so because the federal government is a major threat to New York and Molinaro agrees with Trump on many issues. Molinaro has disputed Cuomo's characterizations of him as a "Trump mini-me," citing that he says he did not vote for Trump in 2016 and that Cuomo's allegations that he is against abortion rights, marriage equality, and immigrants are false.

There are also three other gubernatorial candidates who have general election ballot spots and are actively campaigning: Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, Libertarian Party nominee Larry Sharpe, and Stephanie Miner, who is running as an independent on the new Serve America party line. As this week begins, we're expecting news of what the Working Families Party will be doing with its statewide ballot lines for governor and lieutenant governor (the positions are a ticket in the general) and attorney general (the WFP long ago settled on Tom DiNapoli for Comptroller. It is possible that the WFP will work out a deal with Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul for the pair to appear on that ballot line despite the deeply antagonistic relationship the two sides have had as the WFP backed Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams. The WFP had put a placeholder on its attorney general line and is expected to work something out with Democratic nominee Letitia James so that she will appear on its ballot line. Hawkins did announce this past week that he was making a last-minute effort to convince the WFP to put him and his running-mate Jia Lee on its line for governor and lieutenant governor.

We're also watching this week for any word of at least one debate in the race for Governor, and any news of debates in the other statewide races. With the Democratic nominees favored in all the races, the onus is on them to agree to debates so that voters can hear from all the candidates running.

This week will feature campaigning in the statewide races as well as those for state and federal legislative seats, such as pivotal races for the State Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. There's also a campaign finance filing deadline this week, which will provide insight into how well candidates are able to convince large and small donors to support them and give them the resources to get their messages out to voters.

Beyond electoral campaigns, there is government happening this week, both at the city and state levels, and other events related to politics and policy - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights recently announced that it will lead “a large scale Mass Bail Out Action at New York’s Rikers Island,” which will be “a collaborative effort made up of grassroots groups and formerly incarcerated people to free women and young people in New York City who are jailed because they cannot afford to post bail.” The effort is set to begin Monday and continue throughout the month. “The Mass Bail Out Action will focus on two jails at Rikers Island: the Rose M. Singer Center (RMSC), which cages women awaiting trial; and the Robert N. Davoren Complex (RNDC), where minors are held in custody. On average, 500 women and 100 minors on any given day endure neglect, abuse and isolation – never knowing when freedom will come – all because they cannot afford the price set on their freedom. The large-scale bailout will result in a dramatic drop in Rikers’ population at two distinct jails and serve as an opportunity to close the jails of Rikers Island and reimagine justice – starting with investing in communities harmed by these generational practices.”

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will be a guest on The Capitol Pressroom radio program with host Susan Arbetter at 11 a.m. Monday.

At noon Monday, the state Senate Standing Committees on Crime Victims, Crime, and Correction and on Elections will meet jointly in Albany for a public hearing “to examine both the statutory procedures parole board members are required to consider when making a decision and compliance with same as well as the procedures used in issuing conditional pardons pursuant to Executive Order 181.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was in Texas and South Carolina over the weekend, will appear in his weekly slot on NY1's Inside City Hall with anchor Errol Louis on Monday evening, in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the Association for a Better New York will host James Patchett, President and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, for a “Power Breakfast” at the New York Academy of Sciences in the Financial District. Patchett “will make a major announcement to help establish New York City as a global leader in cybersecurity. He will also discuss how Amazon’s HQ2 search fits into the City’s future, and ongoing efforts to bolster the life sciences sector.”

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, City & State will host its “New York Health & Wellness Summit” at the National Geographic Encounter in Times Square. The event, featuring “leading experts” and “top decision-makers” in the field, will “explore how public officials, corporations, advocacy groups, academia and the media can work to create effective policies to address overall health, physical activity and wellness and the impact on its communities.” Acting Commissioner of the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene Oxiris Barbot will deliver keynote remarks. Other speakers include State Senator Gustavo Rivera, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, City Council Member Barry Grodenchik, Deputy Commissioner of ACS Lorelei Vargas, and others.

Beginning Tuesday morning, the Mayor’s Office of Pensions and Investments, New York Law School, and the Initiative for Responsible Investment will host a two-day conference for public pension fund trustees from around the country at New York Law School. The conference, in its second annual installation, will focus on “how trustees can be forward thinking in incorporating new technology, implementing policy, and communicating with beneficiaries.”

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the Senate Standing Committees on Crime Victims, Crime, and Correction and on Elections will meet jointly at the William P. Bennett Hicksville Community Center in Hicksville, Nassau County for a public hearing “to examine both the statutory procedures parole board members are required to consider when making a decision and compliance with same as well as the procedures used in issuing conditional pardons pursuant to Executive Order 181.”

On Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Union Square, “the landmark "Fix the Subway" coalition will mark its official launch...as a vast assemblage of progressive organizations comes together to win congestion pricing, a new revenue stream capable of raising tens of billions of dollars to modernize New York's ailing public transit system...The group supports congestion pricing to support the implementation of the MTA's Fast Forward plan, which would modernize the subway's 1930s-era signal technology and replace subway cars from the 1960s and 1970s.” Participants include “Riders Alliance, African Communities Together, American Institute of Architects (NYC Chapter), ALIGN NY, Brooklyn Movement Center, CAAAV, Chinese-American Planning Council, Citizen Action, Community Voices Heard, Environmental Advocates of New York, Municipal Art Society, New York City Employment and Training Coalition, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, New York Communities for Change, New York Immigration Coalition, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Picture the Homeless, Rise and Resist, Sanitation Coalition, Straphangers Campaign, Street Vendor Project, Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, Transportation Alternatives, and the Women's Center for Education & Career Advancement, and other organizations.”

On Tuesday at noon, Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max will be the guest speaker at the October luncheon of the League of Women Voters, New York City chapter, discussing the 2018 elections in New York. The event will take place at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Public Housing will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “NYCHA development and privatization.”
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at noon.
--The Committees on Criminal Justice and Governmental Operations will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “voting rights for justice-involved people,” as well as to discuss proposed laws relating to the Departments of Probation and Correction informing parolees of their voting rights, and to “agencies assisting eligible parolees with voter registration.”
--The Committee on Hospitals will meet at 2 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “changes in the delivery of health care services -- moving towards a community-based outpatient model.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 2 p.m.

"The New York Power Authority and New York State Canal Corporation will reveal on Wednesday, October 3, the winners of the Reimagine the Canals Competition, a project announced last year by Governor Cuomo to reward the best ideas to have the Canal System become an engine of economic development and a magnet for tourism and recreation. The seven finalists come from an original field of 145 submissions from across the globe. Each received up to $50,000 to develop their entries and are now in a position to be awarded up to $1.5 million to implement their ideas."

At 3 p.m. Wednesday, the New York State Board of Elections will hold a commissioners meeting at the State Board offices in Albany.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy program will air on WBAI radio (99.5FM or wbai.org), featuring interviews with New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Jonathan Trichter.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, there will be a public scoping meeting at the Bronx County Courthouse to discuss the mayor’s plan to place a new jail in the Bronx, as part of the replacement plan for the Rikers Island jails.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, BRIC TV will host a town hall meeting on NYCHA at BRIC’s headquarters in Fort Greene. The town hall will focus on tenant perspectives on the issues plaguing NYCHA, such as “over-policing, crumbling infrastructure, environmental hazards, and violence,” as well as threats from Washington of funding cuts when NYCHA is in need of funds. City Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver keynote remarks. There will also be a panel consisting of City Council Members Alicka-Ampry Samuel and Ritchie Torres, New York Daily News reporter Greg Smith, NYCHA tenant leader Lisa Kenner, and NYIT professor Nicholas Dagen-Bloom.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Museum of the City of New York will host “New York’s Housing Crisis: Which Way Forward?” Economist Edward Glaeser and sociologist Miriam Greenberg will join WNYC’s Matt Katz for a discussion on “the political, social, and economic forces shaping the future of housing in New York City and globally,” specifically focusing on the battle between “ideals of development and community preservation, between maintaining affordability and attracting a larger tax base, and between the free market and government intervention.”

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law “amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to amending the requirement that a statement of income and expense certified by a certified public accountant be provided in order for an income-producing property to be granted a reduction in real property assessment by the tax commission.”

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen will deliver opening remarks at the Crain’s 2018 Arts & Culture Breakfast at the Con Edison Conference Center in Union Square.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Costa Constantinides will hold a town hall meeting at PS 171 in Astoria.

Friday and the weekend
At 8:15 a.m. Friday, the Center for New York City Law will host a “CityLaw Breakfast” with City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia. The event will take place at 185 West Broadway.

Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

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