Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/980 Fri, 17 Aug 2018 13:50:41 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) What's The [Data] Point? $31.8 billion in NYCHA need, with Sean Campion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7814:what-s-the-data-point-31-8-billion-in-nycha-need-with-sean-campion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7814:what-s-the-data-point-31-8-billion-in-nycha-need-with-sean-campion whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 47 -- $31.8 billion, with Sean Campion [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

sean campion wtdp2

NYCHA needs about $32 billion in upgrades over five years to enter a state of good repair. The housing authority is in nothing short of a crisis, both in terms of its overall needs, which have been building for decades, and the recent lead paint scandal, which has led to a federal consent decree with the city and incoming federal monitor. Just after the new NYCHA needs assessment and its $32 billion price tag was recently released, Citizens Budget Commission released its own report about NYCHA's dire situation and where the authority must go to have a chance to survive. The report's author, Sean Campion, joined the podcast to discuss CBC's findings and recommendations. 

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.

]]>
What's The [Data] Point? $31.8 billion in NYCHA need, with Sean Campion Thu, 19 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Scott Stringer on His ‘Agency Watch List,’ De Blasio’s Housing Plan & Restructuring NYCHA http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7796:scott-stringer-on-his-agency-watch-list-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-restructuring-nycha http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7796:scott-stringer-on-his-agency-watch-list-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-restructuring-nycha scott stringer comptroller

Comptroller Scott Stringer and Deputy Comptroller Marjorie Landau (photo: @NYCComptroller)


Comptroller Scott Stringer, the city’s chief fiscal officer who placed three city agencies on a new “watch list” in February due to concerns about their escalating spending and questionable return on investment, said recently that his office will be holding public hearings to provide stronger oversight, better transparency, and more urgency for reforms.

“We need more robust public hearings to the agencies, we need to demand more accountability from our government, and if we’re really going to be a progressive government, we need to ask whether the programs we’re putting forth are meeting the needs of struggling New Yorkers,” Stringer said during a recent appearance on the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission. “I’m going to continue to think about ways the comptroller’s office can hold these agencies accountable.”

During the discussion, Stringer not only explained his watch list, but also repeatedly criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio over what Stringer sees as an insufficient affordable housing plan; explained his belief that New York City public housing needs a new management structure; and said that the city is not budgeting responsibly.

As part of his analysis of the city budget, Stringer singled out the Department of Homeless Services, Department of Education, and Department of Correction as agencies whose spending was of most concern, forming his initial “watch list,” which includes a new web portal with detailed information about the three and plans for more robust examination of their spending and effectiveness.

In addition to public hearings, Stringer’s office inspects agencies through audits, investigations, and reports. The comptroller’s office is also responsible for approving contracts that city agencies enter with outside vendors. While Stringer mentioned on the podcast a general plan to hold his own public hearings on the watch list agencies, his office declined to provide more information in response to follow-up questions.

Stringer included the Department of Homeless Services on his watch list after determining that despite citywide spending for homelessness across all agencies more than doubling from $1.1 billion in 2013 to an anticipated $2.6 billion in 2019, the number of individuals living in shelters has grown from 49,000 in 2013 to more than 61,000 in early 2018.  

Stringer said unravelling the homeless crisis in New York City starts with taking accountability for unnecessary expenditures.

“I think we have to look at changing policy and I think we have to look at making sure every dollar counts because if we continue to house people in commercial hotels that cost $100 million and if we continue to stuff people into these terribly conditioned homeless shelters, that’s the core of what we believe in that has to change,” Stringer said. “Budgets are priorities, but you have to be smart about expenditure and analyze whether that money is doing the right thing by the people.”

While Mayor Bill de Blasio has put a variety of plans in place to combat homelessness, it has been one of the central struggles of his time in office. Stringer and de Blasio are both Democrats who were elected to their current positions in 2013 and reelected in 2017. They will both be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021; Stringer is widely expected to run for mayor in the upcoming election cycle.

When resetting his approach to homelessness a second time, in early 2017, de Blasio announced a plan to open 90 new shelters while leaving notoriously troubled cluster site shelter apartments and expensive commercial hotels. He also said the plan, which includes ongoing and enhanced mechanisms like rental subsidies and free lawyers for housing court, would result in a very modest decrease in the homeless population.

"What is the plan to really reduce homelessness?,” Stringer said. “Do not even say to me that, well, ‘our plan is to reduce homelessness by 2,500 in five years.’ At the cost of $3 billion? You’ve got to be kidding me. I mean everybody wake up here."

As for the Department of Education, another “watch list” agency, Stringer’s office has found that the DOE was spending inefficiently and he has questioned its ballooning central staff. In a trial test of eight schools, Comptroller audits found that one third of computer hardware was unaccounted for with no follow-up actions to implement basic controls. Stringer’s staff also discovered that despite a $1 billion investment in high-speed broadband, one in three teachers are still displeased with the service. Moreover, in what Stinger’s office called “a rampant waste and lack of accountability,” $2.7 billion in no-bid contracts were doled out by DOE.

“I don’t want to see a 24% increase in administrative costs at DOE,” Stringer said on the podcast. “I want money to go into the classroom.”

Stringer included the Department of Correction on his watch list in order to highlight increases in spending and violence despite a decrease in inmate populations at city jails. Since 2008, the average daily inmate population dropped from 13,850 to 9,500 in 2017 (and as of July 2, it was just about 8,200). However, the average annual cost to house an inmate more than doubled over that same period. Over the last decade, the number of violent incidents at city jails more than tripled.

“At Department of Correction, this is something amazing, population is going down, but violence is going up,” Stringer said on the podcast. “And now we’re spending $270,000 a year [per inmate] on holding 9,000 inmates on Rikers Island. OK, this is madness.”

The agency watch list relates to overall budgeting by the mayor and the City Council, and to the effectiveness of spending on key city services, as well as how much the city is spending overall, its long-term financial commitments, and its reserves. Mayor de Blasio and the Council recently passed an $89.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2019, which began July 1. The size of the city budget has increased dramatically under de Blasio, and Stringer has been sounding alarm bells all along about the rate of spending, the lack of a recommended savings program that was used under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and potentially insufficient reserves for the inevitable economic downturn.

On the podcast, Stringer said the city’s projected “budget cushion” — reserves as a percentage of city operating expenses — must be bolstered.

“I do think that there’s been a lost opportunity as it relates to putting more money aside for a rainy day,” Stringer said. “And we have now a record budget of $89 billion...I think we are going down a road that could cost us or hurt in the long run.”

The current budget reserves are about 9 percent of projected 2019 spending, about $8.5 billion in reserves, lower than what Stringer says is the optimal range of 12 to 18 percent. The “budget cushion” debate is a long-running one between the mayor and the comptroller. De Blasio has repeatedly stated that the city has “record” reserves, which is true in terms of absolute numbers, but as a percentage of spending, Stringer remains concerned.

Reserves are vital, Stringer explains, because when crisis inevitably hits the city, it often hurts the most vulnerable people, which was was the case after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, he said. Stringer has called on de Blasio to compel his agency commissioner to “scrub” their departments for savings, recommending the type of program Bloomberg used where he insisted on commissioners identify a certain percentage of their budgets for slashing, even if the cuts were not followed through on. De Blasio has not required this of his agency heads, instead instituting a voluntary savings program.

“Well, let’s go scrub the agencies for efficiencies,” Stringer said on the podcast. “That’s something that hasn’t happened in four years. Lets go agency by agency. Say to commissioners, ‘Look, there’s new technology. You haven’t looked at how to save money in an agency in four years.’ Previous mayors used to scrub those budgets and say, ‘Hold on with those expenses.’ That’s one way to do it. The city, the mayor’s refused to do that, I disagree with him. Get in there, get those savings, put is aside for that rainy day.”

As for de Blasio’s affordable housing plan -- which seeks to build or preserve 300,000 rent-regulated units by 2026 -- Stringer had perhaps his harshest words.

"There’s no real affordable housing plan to meet the needs the poorest New Yorkers," Stringer told podcast hosts Maria Doulis and Ben Max. “[W]e need a robust new housing plan," Stringer said.

"We need to think about a new subsidy program. Problem is, right now, for-profit developers is a lot of cases are, yes, they're building more density, and bigger projects in places in Brooklyn like East New York, but the reality is the affordable housing that they’re proposing, the [affordability] is not reflective of the population of the community, so the affordability is not affordable in the community, and we are gentrifying people out of the communities they built,” Stringer said.

And on the New York City Housing Authority, NYCHA, home to more than 400,000 residents of public housing that is falling apart and in need of more than $30 billion of repairs and upgrades, Stringer said it is time to change the governance model.

"That’s why I said to all who would listen, that we need to change the management structure at NYCHA,” Stringer said on the podcast. “It is abysmal. You’ve got a seven member board that doesn’t know what’s up. You’ve got a Chair, and then a [general] manager -- depending on the politics within NYCHA, one has power, the other one doesn’t, vice versa. Even in this crisis, you know, we don’t have a counsel, a chief financial officer in NYCHA, these positions are going unfilled, there’s no capacity in NYCHA.”

“I mean look, City Hall, wake up, do your part,” Stringer said, to ensure there’s “a structure in place” to oversee spending of billions of dollars and work with the federal monitor that will soon be hired based on a consent decree the city has entered with federal investigators. “But at the end of the day, the monitor doesn’t run it, management runs it, so we need one Chair, one person in charge,” Stringer continued. “Also, this is a time to get private industry involved, let’s get the best in the business from around the city, from all walks of life to begin looking at this amazing challenge before NYCHA falls apart.”

De Blasio’s office declined to respond to the comptroller’s criticisms and proposals.

***
by Jordan Kimmel, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Scott Stringer on His ‘Agency Watch List,’ De Blasio’s Housing Plan & Restructuring NYCHA Tue, 10 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Amid Crisis, A Promising Model for NYCHA http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7785:amid-crisis-a-promising-model-for-nycha http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7785:amid-crisis-a-promising-model-for-nycha wald ramps

(image via NYCHA)


Recently, there has been a great deal of attention paid to the deterioration of New York City’s public housing stock and the plight of families living in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments. We’ve seen a vigorous debate over how we got here, who is responsible, and who should control NYCHA going forward. While headlines surrounding NYCHA have been overwhelmingly negative, there is good news that illustrates the promise of better quality of life for NYCHA tenants.

Last week, the Citizens Housing & Planning Council (CHPC), a nonprofit civic research organization, released an interim report from a study on an innovative pilot program that began in December 2014. The pilot shifted management of six Section 8 properties located in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, to Triborough Preservation Partners, a joint venture between NYCHA, L+M Development Partners, and BFC Partners.

The transaction made available $80 million in new capital funds for renovations at buildings containing 874 units and introduced new property management. This money went towards new boilers and elevators; making buildings and units more energy efficient; improving landscaping and common areas; new kitchens and bathrooms inside the apartments, and providing security upgrades. Importantly, no residents were displaced as these renovations occurred.

We evaluated the impact of the changes at these sites before and during construction, comparing them with a control group of six NYCHA developments of similar size and characteristics. Research included collecting data on repair requests, resident turnover, energy use, and rent collection, interviews with property management staff, as well as a tenant survey conducted in partnership with Baruch College Survey Research.

The word “privatization” is a grenade that gets thrown a lot in discussions of NYCHA and does not appear in our study. As a research organization, we will leave it to others to characterize this pilot program. But here are the facts: NYCHA retains 50% ownership. The rental assistance is paid for by a Section 8 contract funded by the federal government. The renovations, approximately $90,000 per unit, were funded primarily using Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Tax-Exempt Bonds from the New York City Housing Development Corporation. Both NYCHA and HDC retain the right to approve or deny any proposed sale of the property.  

A private property management company (C+C management) is now responsible for day-to-day operations at the site. As a result of the renovations, the new management company is currently responding to only one-fifth as many repair requests. Electricity usage has gone down, and rent collection has improved. At the same time, turnover rose and re-rental time took longer.

The tenant survey determined that Triborough residents’ ratings of their housing surpassed those in the control group in almost every measure, with residents’ ratings of their own apartments, the overall building, and elevators outpacing NYCHA residents’ ratings by at least 2:1.

Not only did we see obvious, physical improvements in conditions at building sites, we saw how the improvements impacted the day-to-day lives of tenants – in their comfort, sense of safety, and how they felt about their homes and surroundings. Tenants, many of whom felt trepidation about this approach, have seen results and can see that their fears did not come to fruition.

For instance, residents felt safer (65% in the pilot group felt very safe, compared with 37% in the control group), that day-to-day management was responsive (86% in the pilot group, compared with 55% in the control group), and that emergency repairs were addressed (73% in the pilot group, compared with 47% in the control group). And, interestingly, residents in the pilot group were almost 30 percentage points more likely to recommend their building to a friend or family member.

Our findings were only the first, encouraging step; we plan to continue to collect and review more data during the post-construction period.

NYCHA faces a number of daunting challenges, illustrated by the report that came out Monday morning detailing the $31.8 billion that NYCHA needs over the next five years to address unmet capital repairs. Tackling these challenges alone would be impossible. Tough times call for innovative thinking, and the City should be commended for creating a structure that brings in new partners and new resources that ensure affordability and a set of incentives that has significantly improved the quality of life for residents.  

***
Jessica Katz is executive director of the Citizens Housing & Planning Council. On Twitter @chpcny.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
Amid Crisis, A Promising Model for NYCHA Mon, 02 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
NYCHA Decree an Opportunity to Awaken Potent Political Force http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7754:nycha-decree-an-opportunity-to-awaken-potent-political-force http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7754:nycha-decree-an-opportunity-to-awaken-potent-political-force red hook design update nycha

(photo via NYCHA)


In 2014, in an interview about living conditions in public housing since Superstorm Sandy devastated the Rockaways, a tenant leader lamented, “...we were on the steps of City Hall today. I’m tired. I’m sick and tired having to come in the same spot to fight the same fight. It’s crazy that as public housing residents, we have to go through what we have to go through just for a decent place to live.” Another tenant leader later mused, “Where are the people that used to be here who had our best interests at heart?”  

Fast-forward to 2018, and the Citywide Council of Presidents, an elected body representing over 400,000 tenants of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), took the unprecedented step of suing the agency. Residents pointed to high-profile health and safety failures including a lapse in lead paint inspections with fraudulent reports to the contrary from former Chair Shola Olatoye and sporadic heat and hot water during a frigid winter.

Their claims have been robustly confirmed by a multi-year federal investigation into NYCHA’s operations, with the city and federal government entering a consent decree last week that commits $2.2 billion over 10 years, overseen by a court-appointed monitor. Tenant plaintiffs also allege that NYCHA has failed to include residents in policymaking, as U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines mandate. 

It is this sense of powerlessness and lack of political incorporation of tenants in NYCHA’s oft-described “city within a city” that I investigate in Rockaway, where almost 10,000 public housing residents live. New York City built extensive public housing along its waterfront throughout the twentieth century. Rockaway’s marginal location created an affordable landscape for building public housing, with beach bungalows torn down as slum clearance to make way for the developments between 1951 and 1973.

Today, 23 percent of Queens’ public housing is in Rockaway, versus only five percent of the population of this “borough of homeowners.” Rockaway has some of the highest percentages of income-restricted properties in New York City, incorporating almost one in three rental units.

Homeowners in Rockaway look askance at the concentration of public housing there, accusing the city of “dumping” unwanted poverty at their doorstep since at least the 1950s. Local homeowners told me, “All the housing projects...Rockaway has its burden and we have its share and it also kind of diminishes our ability to be politically active. It’s putting more people on us, diluting our ability to be strong,” and “If it’s bad, it’s NYCHA. If it’s the fix, it’s NYCHA. And if it’s the repair, it’s NYCHA.”

Faced with this antipathy, living with mold, mildew, leaks, and heat and hot water outages in crumbling, aging properties, tenants over the years developed pronounced political apathy, manifest in very low turnout in tenant council elections, absence at community recovery meetings, and lack of participation in advocates’ surveys of post-Sandy living conditions. “We could have gotten more than 600 people surveyed if people had faith or had hope or believed that something’s going to come of it,” one tenant council officer said.

My research shows that the disaster recovery experiences of NYCHA residents have been materially different than those of their neighbors who own homes or rent in the private-housing market. These disparities are the direct result of several detrimental factors and policies, including (1) the racialized, gendered, and classist stigma of living in public housing; (2) HUD regulations that stipulate tenants’ political power and channel it narrowly towards working with local public housing authorities; (3) an opaque status that allows NYCHA to operate without clear, accountable managerial and budgetary oversight at the state and local levels; and (4) the spatial isolation of NYCHA developments, which cuts public housing residents off from their neighbors and creates different environmental impacts from Sandy. Taken together, these constraints have isolated NYCHA residents from the political activism of their neighbors and limited their political power at every level of government.

After Sandy, for example, Rockaway public housing tenants lost easy access to polling places, suffered closure of community spaces and resident council offices, and felt NYCHA’s workforce development was insufficient to connect residents to post-Sandy reconstruction. They felt unwelcome at local community meetings, and recovery policy priorities – Build it Back, the reconstruction of the Rockaway Boardwalk – were mostly irrelevant to them. Residents thus experienced stigma from their political and social isolation, and a reduced capacity to vote, gather and share information, and pursue meaningful, accessible work.

While city, state, and federal officials fight over whether decades of budget cuts or chronic mismanagement is to blame for the decrepit living conditions at NYCHA, tenants have turned to the court system to claim their right to “decent, safe, and sanitary housing.” The New York Times reports mixed tenant views on whether federal oversight and substantial investment will make much difference. Yet, the consent decree affirms that NYCHA communities are worth fighting for. It also presents a critical opportunity to expand tenant organizing and empowerment within the developments and in their surrounding neighborhoods, using a combination of public-private funding and building on the work of advocacy organizations like Community Voices Heard that have long represented the low-income women, elderly, disabled, and families of color that disproportionately reside in public housing.

Expanding tenants’ rights and political power is as essential as managerial reforms and financial investments. As one Rockaway tenant council president put it, “Rockaway was built into six communities with presidents. If we all come together and say, ‘We got all these registered voters here. What are you going to do for us?’”

Another leader echoed this sentiment, “There’s enough people in NYCHA alone, in Rockaway, to overturn an election. I tell them...‘We all stand together. You can do anything you want.’”

***
Leigh Graham is an assistant professor of urban policy and planning at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Graduate Center, CUNY. 

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
NYCHA Decree an Opportunity to Awaken Potent Political Force Wed, 20 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio and City Council Agree on $89.2 Billion Budget, Funding Key Council Priorities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7731:de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7731:de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities de Blasio Corey Johnson budget City Hall

De Blasio & Johnson shake on it (photo: William Alatriste)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Monday announced an agreement on an $89.15 billion budget for the 2019 fiscal year that includes key Council priorities that the mayor had been hesitant to fund for months.

“This budget is profoundly responsible, it is balanced, it is progressive and it is early,” de Blasio said at the ceremonial budget handshake with Johnson and other Council members at City Hall on Monday evening, about three weeks before the July 1 deadline that is the start of next fiscal year.

The latest spending plan is a slight uptick from the mayor’s $89.06 billion executive budget proposal released in April, and a total $480 million increase from the $88.67 billion preliminary proposal put forward by the administration in February. Overall, it reflects a $16.45 billion increase from the $72.7 billion budget that de Blasio inherited when he took office in 2014. Asked about that significant growth, de Blasio said on Monday, “It’s an investment model, it’s a strategic investment concept,” insisting that much of the city’s prosperity over the last few years stemmed from his administration’s responsible spending and fiscal management.

The money has certainly been there to spend, even as the budget has grown so large, the city has put record sums in reserves, though watchdogs do warn of long-term fiscal impacts of the large growth in public sector headcount de Blasio has overseen.

It was Johnson’s first budget as speaker and he notched a massive victory, convincing an initially reluctant de Blasio to provide $106 million to partially fund the ‘Fair Fares’ program that will provide half-priced MetroCards to New Yorkers that live below the federal poverty line. The Council members in attendance struck an especially celebratory tone.

“I believe that Speaker Johnson said the words ‘Fair Fares’ to me an unfair number of times,” de Blasio mused of Johnson’s almost single-minded focus on the issue in the lead up to the budget deal. The speaker headed a concerted campaign for the program, using digital and social media and grassroots advocacy. All but three members of the City Council had expressed their support for it by this week; it was clearly the speaker’s top priority in negotiations with the mayor.

De Blasio said Monday that the program will launch in January 2019 and run through the rest of the fiscal year, and will be implemented by the city rather than the MTA, in a similar fashion to the Human Resource Administration’s cash assistance and food stamp programs. Following the six-month rollout, the city will evaluate participation and cost to decide on future funding, Johnson later said as he insisted that both he and the mayor will continue to push for an additional millionaires tax approved in Albany to fully fund the program.

The mayor also added $225 million in funding to reserves, conceding nearly half of the Council’s $500 million demand for more rainy day funds. About $125 million was added to the general reserve, bringing it to $1.25 billion each year, and $100 million to the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund, increasing it to $4.35 billion, while the capital stabilization reserve remained static at $250 million.

De Blasio also touted other top items that had been outlined in earlier iterations of the budget, namely $125 million in increased fair school funding, added resources for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), an expansion of 3-K for all, and funding for police body cameras.

“This spending plan will strengthen our social safety net and do more for New Yorkers who are struggling to get by on less,” Johnson said as he thanked the mayor for “good faith” negotiations over the last few months.

“We are taking a sharp-eyed, sober approach to the future,” he added, detailing a few of the initiatives funded in the budget, including $150 million in additional capital funding over three years to improve accessibility for the disabled at city schools and an expansion of of the summer youth employment program from 70,000 to 75,000 slots.

Johnson also highlighted the hundreds of millions of dollars that the city previously committed to the MTA Subway Action Plan, as Johnson had wanted it to but de Blasio did not, after the state budget forced the city's hand. He also stressed additional investment in supportive housing, to accelerate the pace of units opening.

The deal, according to a press release from the mayor's office, also increases and baselines funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program "to $20 million annually" and adds $3.5 million "for additional litter basket pickup" to avoid trash can overflow on street corners.

The final budget does not include a $400 property tax rebate for thousands of homeowners -- another key Council priority -- since the administration and Council announced late last month that they would convene a property tax commission to review the system and propose reforms. The commission is expected to begin its work with the July 1 start of the new fiscal year and will hold ten hearings to seek public input.

The budget agreement announcement came hours after another, more tense news conference at City Hall where de Blasio addressed the city’s agreement, announced Monday morning, with federal prosecutors to accept a federal monitor for NYCHA. The deal also requires the city to provide billions more in funding for the ailing housing authority over the several years, and that funding will be reflected in the capital budget when it passes the City Council later this month, de Blasio said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
De Blasio and City Council Agree on $89.2 Billion Budget, Funding Key Council Priorities Mon, 11 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Investigation Commissioner on Examining NYPD, NYCHA and Correction http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7710:investigation-commissioner-on-examining-nypd-nycha-and-correction http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7710:investigation-commissioner-on-examining-nypd-nycha-and-correction Mark Peters DOI Cy Vance

Commissioner Peters at a press conference (photo: @NYC_DOI)


It took Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Police Department two years to accept what the city’s Department of Investigation had uncovered in 2015, DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said recently: that quality-of-life crime enforcement, like marijuana arrests, does little to reduce violent crime and that these arrests disproportionately affect people of color.

When the DOI came out with the report detailing these findings, it experienced pushback from the mayor, who publicly questioned the accuracy and methodology behind the data, as well as from then-NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. But, at a City Council hearing last month, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, who succeeded Bratton, not only agreed that marijuana arrests had little bearing on the reduction of violent crime but also acknowledged the need for a comprehensive study on why these arrests disproportionately affect communities of color -- something DOI’s 2015 report recommended.

“Would it be better if everybody agreed on that two years earlier?,” asked Peters, the DOI commissioner since 2014, on a recent episode of the What’s The [Data] Point podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission. “Sure. But the point is, two years later, the NYPD in fact has accepted the basic premise of our report [and] has agreed to do the thing we think needs to be done.”

Since Peters took over DOI after being nominated by de Blasio and confirmed by the City Council, the department’s work – including investigations into the NYPD, the city’s public housing authority (NYCHA), the Department of Correction, and other city agencies – has made many waves, including by frustrating de Blasio on several occasions as it has uncovered waste, fraud and abuse in city government. It is a testimony to the agency’s cherished independence, according to Peters, which is critical to earning and increasing the public’s trust in government and its ability to tackle serious problems.

Establishing a clear sense of independence at the department, however, was something Peters had to work early on to establish given that, as treasurer, he had been a key part of de Blasio’s mayoral campaign in 2013. But as DOI has released both incremental and bombshell reports over the past four-plus years, Peters has earned praise from skeptics. He has also overseen the doubling of personnel at DOI, in large part due to building out the new office of the Inspector General of the NYPD, which has produced some of the most controversial work of the Peters-de Blasio era, after its creation was enshrined into law by the City Council in 2013 over a veto by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Role of DOI and its Commissioner
“DOI’s role is to provide transparency,” Peters said, and, when necessary, “to demonstrate ‘what we have now is not working.’”

His department is one of the oldest law enforcement entities in New York. It has jurisdiction to root out corruption, waste, and abuse throughout city government, as well as in companies that do business with or are regulated by the city, such as the construction industry. DOI has a unique ability and mandate, and looks at both specific instances of wrongdoing and larger systems that may be ineffective or corrupt.

DOI is designed in the city charter to be largely independent from the mayor, though the mayor does nominate the commissioner, who must also be approved by the City Council.

“I’d like to think that the mayor picked me because I’ve spent really the 20-odd years before in law enforcement and, in particular, doing both law enforcement and anti-corruption work,” said Peters, whose resumé includes titles like Chief of the Public Corruption Unit and Deputy Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau for the office of the New York State Attorney General. He also previously worked at various civil rights organizations, such as serving as the Senior Staff Attorney at Children’s Inc., a national organization helping abused children.

Doubts about Peters’ potential independence dominated public discourse around the time of his confirmation hearings in 2014. Since then, however, contention among DOI, the mayor, and the agencies that DOI investigates – such as the aforementioned tension over the DOI’s 2015 report regarding quality-of-life, AKA broken windows, policing – have laid those doubts to rest. Of his progress so far, Peters said, “I’d like to believe that, four years on, people are reasonably comfortable that we’ve been independent and that we will continue to be independent.”

One of the first things that Peters did as the newly appointed DOI commissioner, he said on the podcast, was talk to the mayor about increasing the department’s funding in order to acquire the appropriate amount of staff, especially in regards to overseeing the NYPD.

Subsequently, since 2013 the headcount of personnel at DOI has doubled and its budget has similarly increased by 58 percent, rising from $30.6 million in 2013 to $48.2 million today.

“Without that,” said Peters, “all the laws in the world saying ‘You’ve got the authority to do it’ are meaningless if you don’t have the troops to actually get the work done.”

Investigating the NYPD
The city charter has always granted DOI the jurisdiction to create an inspector general for the NYPD, along with the rest of the city government, but while DOI serves as inspector general for all city government and launched specific inspectors for other agencies, one never materialized for the NYPD. “Institutions are governed by a series of laws, but they are also governed by a series of practices and traditions,” Peters said when asked why there hadn’t been an NYPD IG before the City Council legislation. “That’s just true.”

The law passed by the Council in 2013 “essentially said, ‘You’ve always had the power to do this, now we are directing you that you must do this,’” Peters said.

As a result, the DOI hired about 50 new staff members, including Philip K. Eure, the first and current Inspector General for the NYPD. Along with the 2015 report on broken windows policing, a philosophy and resulting practice supported by Bratton, O’Neill, and de Blasio, DOI has released other NYPD reports, including one this year that shed light on the NYPD’s handling of sexual assault cases.

According to Peters, the report showed that while the number of sexual assault cases have increased by 65 percent in the last decade, staffing for the special victims division remained flat, with only 67 detectives assigned to work adult sex crimes. As a result of the understaffing, a policy relegated ‘acquaintance rape’ (as opposed to ‘stranger rape’) to be sent out from the investigation units to the precincts, where many officers may be unequipped to deal with such cases. The facilities in which the police interview sexual assault victims were additionally deemed inadequate given the sensitivity of the cases. And, perhaps most importantly, DOI obtained documents that revealed that even the top ranks of the NYPD knew about these problems and were not taking sufficient measures to remedy them.

NYPD officials pushed back on the report and attacked DOI for not interviewing the then-chief of detectives. They, along with the mayor, urged caution about believing the findings of the report and said that it was being further examined and that the new chief of detectives would be reevaluating everything under his purview anyway.

At a City Council hearing last month, NYPD officials acknowledged the poor state of interview facilities for the victims of sexual assault and said they would invest in fixing them. While the NYPD’s formal response to the report is expected at the end of June, Peters sees progress in how much attention and potential change is resulting from the DOI report.

“I think what’s happened is you’ve seen we’ve sped up the process of getting at this problem without people having to go to court and use litigation,” Peters said, referring to the lawsuits brought against the NYPD in response to the high rates of stop-and-frisk, a practice deemed unconstitutional in terms of how the NYPD targeted people of color. “As an old civil rights lawyer, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with litigation, but it’s not the most efficient way of changing things.”

Peters stressed the value of DOI’s work in terms of transparency. “The only way for the City Council to hold really good, thoughtful hearings is for them to have something like our reports,” said Peters. “Because that’s the baseline material that allows you to then ask questions of the NYPD. If you wanna have the NYPD come in and testify and you wanna ask them the hard questions...the first thing you need is all of DOI’s work telling you what’s going on.”

The Department of Correction and Closing Rikers
Last summer, the de Blasio administration announced plans to lower the city’s incarcerated population and shut down the Rikers Island jails, while creating additional jail space in four borough-based facilities. While public policy is under the jurisdiction of the mayor and the City Council, it is the DOI’s job to make sure that policy and programs work.

“Part of making it successful is pointing out that, in and of itself, taking Rikers and moving it to borough facilities...is not gonna solve the problems of violence and contraband smuggling that we’re seeing,” Peters said, discussing work DOI has done to examine problems at city jails, including those on Rikers.

A report that the DOI issued earlier this year found that the problems of violence and contraband smuggling, which are rampant at Rikers, are happening at similar levels at the jail facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Peters estimated that about 50 correction officers and facility staff have been arrested so far for involvement in contraband schemes, such as accepting bribes in exchange for smuggling. Additionally, undercover officers were also able to smuggle weapons and drugs into the borough-based jail facilities.

“I don’t see any reason to believe that that level of arrests is necessarily gonna go down over the next year or so,” Peters said. “So we still have a huge amount of work that needs to be done to get at those problems.”

As a result, Peters doesn’t see the plan to shutter Rikers as a silver bullet solution to the city’s jail problems. “As we plan for this, we need to continue planning for how do we deal with security and mental health and contraband smuggling,” he said.

Safety Violations at NYCHA
When DOI investigated the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) late last year, it found that the public housing authority not only violated lead paint, smoke detector, and elevator safety procedures, but also falsified documents to the federal government that said it was complying with safety protocols.

The report DOI produced based on NYCHA misconduct led to public discussion over the failings of the agency as well as to City Council hearings, where NYCHA officials committed to making internal changes based on the findings of the report. Peters believes that a recent leadership change at NYCHA is linked to the DOI investigation that outed the safety violations and false paperwork.

“We said, ‘Look, NYCHA is failing to meet the standards that the city and the federal government have already set for lead safety,’” Peters said. “In other words, no, we’re not experts on how much lead exposure is safe, but the city and the federal government have said, ‘Here are the rules.’ What we then do is come along and say, ‘You’re not following the rules.’”

In general, NYCHA is underfunded and lacks the proper resources to fix some major problems, Peters said. To get rid of the mold in NYCHA apartments, for example, the agency would have to fix the roofs, which is difficult to do without the federal funding NYCHA has historically relied upon. According to Peters, the federal government hasn’t paid its fair share to NYCHA over the past decade.

“DOI has not spent a lot of time criticizing NYCHA or investigating issues of NYCHA that are related to that kind of funding,” Peters said, explaining, though, that NYCHA must still be organized, honest, and as efficient as possible, “because telling NYCHA that you need the money is true, but they know that. We all know that. And we do not have oversight authority over the federal government.”

Simultaneously, other areas of NYCHA, such as following the standard safety protocols for lead paint or smoke detectors, are not related to federal government funding. Instead, it is a matter of management doing its job.

Unearthing these problems of mismanagement and malfeasance at NYCHA, and throughout city government and beyond, is the crux of DOI’s mission.

“Part of the reason I think it’s important to have a permanent independent inspector general is we’re not going anywhere,” Peters said. “Our investigations into NYCHA aren’t finished. We are continuing to look at this...so that if NYCHA, having said they’re going to deal with this, doesn’t, we’ll be back in six months and we’ll be able to say to the Council and the public and to journalists and to all of you, ‘Here’s what really happened.’”

[Listen: What's The [Data] Point? 402, with Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters]

***
by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Investigation Commissioner on Examining NYPD, NYCHA and Correction Mon, 04 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 402, with Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7676:what-s-the-data-point-402-with-mark-peters http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7676:what-s-the-data-point-402-with-mark-peters whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 41 -- 402, with DOI Commissioner Mark Peters [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

mark peters podcast 277px

Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters is one of the most feared officials in New York City. The power of his office has few limits as it investigates waste, fraud, and abuse in and around city government. DOI issues reports, makes arrests, and really gets under the hood of city agencies.

Under Peters, who took office in 2014, DOI has issued bombshell reports about the NYPD, NYCHA, the Department of Correction, and other city agencies and entities. Peters joined the podcast to discuss the work of the office, which has grown substantially during his tenure, his relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who nominated him to the position but has criticized his work on several occasions, and more.

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.

]]>
What's The [Data] Point? 402, with Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters Thu, 17 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Eric Adams Previews Vision for Becoming City’s CEO http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7652:eric-adams-previews-vision-for-becoming-city-s-ceo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7652:eric-adams-previews-vision-for-becoming-city-s-ceo bpericadams twitter 2

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (photo: @bpericadams)


“I’m working towards City Hall,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said on Tuesday, explaining during a wide-ranging interview that he has begun planning his run for mayor.

It’s no secret that Adams, 57, who was elected borough president in 2013 and reelected last year, wants to succeed Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat who will be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021 -- he has made that clear for years. But on Tuesday, during an appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, Adams for the first time publicly offered insight into his vision for running the city and what part of his campaign pitch will be.

“What we’ve been able to do here in Brooklyn, and my perception of where I believe the city needs to go, I think it’s different from all the candidates who are running and thinking about running,” he said, sitting in the vast conference room of Brooklyn Borough Hall.         

That difference comes in part from Adams’ background in policing. For 22 years, the borough president was a member of the NYPD. In the early 1990s, he said on Tuesday, he was active in developing the management system CompStat under Police Commissioner Bill Bratton — a system that has been credited for helping to drastically reduce crime and, according to Adams, “changed the culture of policing not only for New York but for the rest of America.”

“When the police department made this change, every agency should have followed,” Adams said, pivoting toward his vision for managing the city’s immense bureaucracy and dozens of agencies. “We have enough money, the right agencies, and the right people in place, but the systems are broken.”

A CompStat approach across all agencies, Adams said, would include technology to inspect and track progress in “real time.” “I’m going to professionalize our agencies so...we can start seeing our results not yearly, but daily. CompStat would be a model that would be used in every agency.”

CompStat is known for its data-driven approach and tough culture of accountability on NYPD leaders, such as precinct commanders. “Commissioner Bratton came in and said, ‘We have to change the culture’, and he had to move people out of the way who couldn’t understand that change,” Adams said, adding there must be clear goals that relevant agencies are working together to achieve, efforts that today are too disjointed.

Adams is typically supportive of de Blasio — even applauding the mayor during the podcast for “doing a good job” in improving access to after-school care and reducing both the use of stop-and-frisk policing as well as crime, among other positives he cited. But the borough president also noted problems with education, healthcare, police accountability, and affordability in the city, saying: “when you look at it, either we’re going downwards or we’re flat-lining, we don’t see any improvements.”

Using the example of unemployment (which was at a near-record low of 4.2 percent in March 2018, down from 8.3 percent when de Blasio first took office in January 2014) Adams said government agencies must work together more coherently.

“I want to create a clear mission for the city that means every agency, although they have their individual portion of the mission, they should be all moving towards that vision. If the goal is to improve unemployment numbers, then we cannot have agencies that are in the way of allowing companies to open and do business in the city,” he said.

“Yes, your mission might be to ensure buildings are safe, but that mission should also feed into the overall mission of the city. It should not take a year to grant a building permit.”

Though there’s a ways to go until Adams presents voters his promises ahead of the 2021 mayoral election -- where he is expected to face Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and possibly others in the Democratic primary -- the Brooklyn borough president is clearly thinking about how he will make his pitch and what would separate him from the crowd.

During the podcast, Adams touched on other aspects of current policy debates that may come into play during a future campaign, but are already playing out now.

Most notably, Adams said he wants to examine whether the city should “tear down” and rebuild public housing developments. With crises plaguing the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and many billions of dollars in infrastructure needs across its portfolio, Adams said the “only way to change the problem narrative is to think outside of the box.”

“We’re asking Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to do a real analysis of repairs and the cost of going in and doing these repairs,” he said. “We need to have a conversation: do we tear down NYCHA and rebuild it at the quality level it needs to be?”

“I say we must be committed to zero displacement: the current tenants are guaranteed to remain there,” he continued. “But there are old pipes, old roofs, and old wiring. What is it going to cost us to make NYCHA housing sustainable for the future?”

Adams is also critical of politicians who treat NYCHA like a pony show to garner media attention and boost voter confidence, making apparent reference to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent interest in public housing. Adams recently stepped further into the politics surrounding NYCHA by inviting Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent in this year’s election to tour NYCHA with him -- an offer Cynthia Nixon quickly took him up on, touring Albany Houses in Crown Heights with the borough president.

Adams said the way some politicians treat NYCHA has created an “angry and distrustful” community of residents who are living in such impoverished conditions “they’ve given up.”

“Folks have finally discovered there is a NYCHA and they’re walking through it, I don’t know where they’ve been all these years, the NYCHA problem did not start now,” Adams said.

During the conversation with Gotham Gazette and City Limits, Adams also touched on other areas where he wants to usher in change.

A top priority for Adams is campaign finance reform, with the borough president saying the current system means candidates are spending more time in affluent areas, away from where they need to be.

“There is no reason we shouldn’t have a public-funded system,” he said. “People are not going to NYCHA or South Bronx or South Jamaica, Queens. They are going to affluent zip codes and focusing on finding donors in those areas.”

At the moment, the city’s public financing program matches contributions up to $175 from locals at a six-to-one rate, with several requisite thresholds. As Adams puts it: “If I live in an affluent area, I don’t care what amount you lower [the donation limit to] it’s easier for me to call a hundred friends and say, ‘Hey, on your way to The Hamptons can you get 1,000 of your friends to donate $175?’ I can’t call someone from the Pink House and say, ‘Hey, you’re on your way to Coney Island Beach, can you give $175?’ It’s not going to happen.”

“The number of calls you make to raise money is taking away from the quality time you should be spending doing your job,” he said. Adams wants a fully public system, whereby candidates don’t have to raise private money. He said that he wants an upcoming City Charter Revision Commission, on which he will have one of 15 appointees, to pursue such a change.

That commission -- organized through City Council legislation at the behest of Public Advocate James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (himself another possible 2021 mayoral candidate) -- will soon be formed, working toward proposals for the 2018 general election ballot. Mayor de Blasio has already formed his own Charter Revision Commission that just began its work, with a mandate to look closely at campaign finance reform.

Adams is also particularly concerned with public health. He believes city schools shouldn’t be feeding students processed meat, and he regularly references the World Health Organization’s 2015 report that found “processed meat is carcinogenic to humans” — meaning it causes cancer.

His concern for public health is personal, too. Adams completely changed his lifestyle upon receiving a Type Two Diabetes diagnosis in 2016. By changing his diet to vegan and increasing his exercise regimen, Adams’ blood sugar levels had returned to normal six months on from the diagnosis and he says he completely reversed the disease.

“We are so dysfunctional as a city when you stop to think about it,” he said. “We have a schizophrenic healthcare philosophy. In one area we say that childhood obesity is an issue, asthma is an issue, yet we feed the children food that cause the diseases. There’s a disconnect.”

These are just a few of the issues that are central to Adams’ work now, and could be central to his mayoral campaign.

Yet before the 2021 city elections, there is the 2018 New York gubernatorial race and Adams is giving no indication of the candidate he’s planning to endorse in the Democratic primary, choosing between Cuomo, who he’s “disappointed in,” and Nixon (at least one other name is likely to be on the ballot, perennial candidate Randy Credico).

“I have not kept it a secret that I’m extremely disappointed in the treatment of Brooklyn in comparison to other boroughs, particularly the Bronx,” Adams said when asked about Cuomo, who has a long, close relationship with Diaz, Jr. “We’re looking at all the candidates to determine which way we’re going to go.”

“I think the primaries allow us to hear the voices of those who are running. It’s going to an exciting time,” Adams said. He also spoke about possibly backing Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is running for Lieutenant Governor in the primary against incumbent Kathy Hochul and Adams knows well.

Also on the podcast, Adams spoke about plans for redevelopment in Brooklyn; his reaction to the April shooting of Brooklyn resident Saheed Vassell by police; the mayor’s recent budget proposal; and de Blasio’s record more broadly.

Listen to Eric Adams on the Max & Murphy podcast here, or find it wherever you get your podcasts.

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Eric Adams Previews Vision for Becoming City’s CEO Wed, 02 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Points to Cuomo’s NYCHA Order as ‘Potentially Dangerous’ to City Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7644:de-blasio-points-to-cuomo-s-nycha-order-as-potentially-dangerous-to-city-budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7644:de-blasio-points-to-cuomo-s-nycha-order-as-potentially-dangerous-to-city-budget guvandrcuomo comm center

Gov. Cuomo with top NYC officials and others (photo: Governor's office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order earlier this month to impose an external monitor on the crisis-plagued New York City Housing Authority has turned into a potential budget boondoggle for the city, with Mayor Bill de Blasio warning on Thursday of the “unforeseen consequences” the order could have on the city’s fiscal future.

The governor’s order came after months of escalating problems at NYCHA developments that highlighted the decades-long financial struggles and mismanagement at the city-run agency. NYCHA was also sued by a group of tenants and advocates citing the harsh living conditions in NYCHA apartments, including issues with mold, lead paint, and dramatic failures in heat and hot water systems this past winter during extreme cold spells. That led Cuomo to declare in his order that the conditions at NYCHA “constitute a public nuisance affecting the security of life and health in the city of New York” and that the city could not adequately respond to an imminent disaster.

The emergency declaration ordered the selection of an “Independent Emergency Manager” to oversee repairs to mitigate harmful conditions and to create a plan to utilize $550 million in state funding pegged for NYCHA. The order also eased procurement rules to speed up the pace of repair and maintenance work.

But the order also notes that any repairs ordered by the emergency manager must be paid by the city, as per the state Public Health Law, which Mayor de Blasio took issue with on Thursday during his Executive Budget presentation as he spoke of other “unfunded mandates,” cuts, and cost-shifts that the city was saddled with under the latest state budget.

“The more we and other analysts have looked at that executive order, the more we see a very challenging and potentially dangerous element of it in terms of our budget,” de Blasio said at City Hall. He said that “open-ended language” in the order could mean millions in cost for the city, which would not be approved through the city’s budget process, and therefore would not allow the City Council, the mayor, or comptroller any control over spending.

“We are concerned that that creates a very problematic precedent and in addition could have many unforeseen consequences for next year’s budget,” he added.

De Blasio has repeatedly touted investments he has made in NYCHA since taking office, including $1.6 billion in operating funds and $2.1 billion in capital money. Under his NextGeneration NYCHA plan to get the struggling agency back on its feet, NYCHA has managed to turn around its operating finances, no longer running an annual deficit, though it still faces many billions in capital repair and construction needs.

On Thursday, de Blasio announced an added $20 million investment over the next two fiscal years to further reduce the backlog of repairs at NYCHA by 50,000 cases. But the massive capital need remains, estimated at $25 billion, and growing. The City Council recently called on the mayor to add another $2.45 billion in NYCHA capital funding to the budget (the city has separate operating and capital spending plans). Though no additional capital funding was added in the executive budget, the city has already allocated $423 million in capital for fiscal year 2019, according to Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson.

But for all the potential burden that de Blasio spoke of, the actual effect of Cuomo’s order is unclear and the mayor is not entirely helpless in the process. Budget watchdogs also currently have no idea how much money it could cost the city. “That’s a total unknown at this point,” said Doug Turetsky, communications director for the Independent Budget Office, a city-funded monitor.

Sean Campion, senior research associate at Citizens Budget Commission, an independent nonprofit, said the governor’s order is a “good first step” to chip away at the housing authority’s massive needs, but he acknowledged that the order is “somewhat vague” about the city’s responsibilities. “It definitely sets a new precedent. The impact is yet to be determined. There’s obviously some benefits to having this monitor come in and develop a plan for spending the state money and whatever city money the city wants to chip in as well,” he said.

He also noted that, as per the order, the emergency manager will have to be chosen “unanimously” by the mayor, the City Council speaker, and the president of the NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents. If they fail to do so within the mandated time frame, the decision falls to Comptroller Scott Stringer. “So whoever’s going to be appointed to this position is in some ways going to be appointed by city elected officials, none of whom really have an incentive to essentially give the monitor a blank check for funding all of NYCHA’s repair needs. All that’s sort of tempered the risk,” Campion said.

Several elected officials stood with Cuomo when he signed the order -- including Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and City Council Member Ritchie Torres, former chair of the Council’s public housing committee -- and heaped praise on the governor for taking action, though most had not read the language contained in the order. The officials posed with Cuomo for celebratory photos, behind a banner reading “Standing with NY Tenants.”

After the New York Times first pointed out the potential costs the city would have to bear, some of the same officials demurred.

“We have concerns about some of the ramifications of the order, but we are still reviewing it and discussing our options and potential costs,” said Speaker Johnson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “NYCHA is in crisis and the situation required swift action. We will work with the governor, the mayor and the tenants to find solutions to the worst problems affecting the residents. We are all in agreement that they have suffered for too long.”

Stringer, the city’s chief financial officer, declined to comment through a spokesperson. Public Advocate Letitia James’ office did not provide a comment for this article. She told the Times that the order was an unfunded mandate and that the state should consider taking on the costs of implementing it rather than the city.  

Among the group of city officials, the order’s fiercest defender is Torres, who has in recent weeks positioned himself in close proximity to Cuomo in pushing for NYCHA’s interests and castigating the mayor’s perceived failures. “I think the mayor would be wise to view the executive order as an opportunity to improve public housing rather than a challenge,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “[T]he notion that more funding for public housing is a problem is as insulting as it is idiotic.”

Torres echoed Campion’s point that the city, not the state, will pick the emergency manager, and said it was “disingenuous” for the mayor to claim he has no role. “So I presume he would select someone who would work with the city to develop a financially feasible plan. Even if the mayor has political objections to the executive order, leadership often means making the best of a bad situation, but there’s no evidence that the administration’s even attempting to do so. It’s simply whining, rather than problem-solving,” he said.

He also brushed aside concerns that the city will have to bear more costs, insisting that activists have long pushed for $1 billion annually in funding for NYCHA and that no officials or activists have suggested using the emergency manager to fund NYCHA’s full $25 billion need. “But can the city play a greater role in addressing the most critical infrastructure needs of public housing? I would submit to you that the answer’s ‘yes’ and the executive order creates an opportunity to do so,” Torres said. “The administration has often made piecemeal investments in public housing in response to crises. The executive order forces the city to take a more systematic, a more planned approach to addressing the longer term critical infrastructure needs of public housing.”

De Blasio’s latest expense budget plan, presented Thursday, is for $89 billion for next fiscal year, while the updated five-year capital commitment plan is for $82 billion. The mayor has regularly reminded audiences, though, that NYCHA is its own authority, not a mayoral or city agency, and has its own budget plans, which the city has continued to contribute to under his watch.

De Blasio hopes to quell some of the overarching concerns about Cuomo’s executive order and optimistically said Thursday that he has had conversations with the governor to modify it.

“Even though the Governor and I have disagreements we still talk regularly. I talked to him earlier in the week,” he explained to reporters. “We still attempt to reason together...I don’t think he necessarily intended a massive unfunded mandate on New York City. I think he – I certainly don’t think he intended to interfere with day-to-day operations of NYCHA. We need to have that conversation and work it through...because the last thing you’d want is to have the state issue an executive order that backfires for the people it’s supposed to serve.”

Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesperson, tweeted Friday that the executive order would be adjusted once an ongoing federal investigation into NYCHA’s handling of lead paint concludes and “determines de Blasio’s liability” for what he called a debacle. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for additional comment or offer further clarity.

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
De Blasio Points to Cuomo’s NYCHA Order as ‘Potentially Dangerous’ to City Budget Fri, 27 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Shola Olatoye Did a Lot of Good for NYCHA http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7626:a-fair-look-at-shola-olatoye-s-nycha-tenure http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7626:a-fair-look-at-shola-olatoye-s-nycha-tenure NYCHA Olatoye

Outgoing NYCHA Chair Olatoye, center (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


As faith leaders in communities with large populations of NYCHA residents, we have witnessed the results of chronic disinvestment in public housing first-hand. NYCHA’s aging buildings are crumbling and many residents are worried about the health and safety of their children, elders, and neighbors.

Since 2001, NYCHA has been shortchanged $3 billion in federal operating and capital funding. NYCHA has been struggling to maintain and repair its aging housing stock for decades. And this is larger than New York City, public housing authorities all over the country are set up to fail, facing gutted budgets and regulatory barriers.

When she took her post as Chair and CEO of NYCHA, Shola Olatoye knew she needed to address these problems, so she worked with communities to make a plan. Under her leadership, we developed NextGeneration NYCHA, a 10-year plan to preserve and protect public housing for current residents as well as the next generation of New Yorkers and beyond. That plan became the road forward to safe, healthy, connected homes and communities for NYCHA residents.

Four years later, as NYCHA has strived to meet the NextGen goals, we have begun to see positive changes for the lives NYCHA residents. Under NextGen NYCHA, about 8,000 residents have been placed in jobs and 18,000 have been connected with services. NYCHA launched 14 new Youth Leadership Councils to give young people the tools they need to work with NYCHA leadership to help make policy decisions that impact the quality of life of NYCHA residents, and empower them to bring their perspective to the table.

We have also seen repair response times reduced from an average of 13 days down to four days and new “FlexOps” schedules that make frontline staff available for longer service hours. NYCHA has achieved more than $313 million in savings from NextGen initiatives and NYCHA has built up nearly 3 months of operating reserves. We are proud to have served on NYCHA’s Faith Leaders Committee and are grateful for Chair Olatoye’s leadership over the last four years.

To be clear, NYCHA’s problems didn’t come with the Chair and they certainly aren’t leaving with her. It is also now up to all of us to continue to fight for the 400,000 New Yorkers who call NYCHA home. We all bear some of the burden to fix this.

We are heartened to hear the commitment of Mayor de Blasio to the NextGeneration NYCHA plan, and hope the new Chair will continue to build upon this progress. We look forward to continuing to serve on NYCHA’s Faith Leaders Committee, supporting the incoming leadership, and working together for a brighter future.

***
Rev. Marc Rivera leads Primitive Christian Church and Rev. Al Cockfield leads God’s Battalion of Prayer Church.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
Shola Olatoye Did a Lot of Good for NYCHA Thu, 19 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000