By George Capsis
I clicked on the TV to find Mayor de Blasio, in front of a gaggle of terribly young City Council members, competently running down the council’s achievements as the session apparently came to an end. With only the slightest change in tone he slid into what was happening to the New York City Housing Authority—NYCHA—which houses at least 400,000 people and is the largest public housing complex in the world. It used to boast that it was succeeding while similar developments in cities like Chicago and St. Louis were blowing up as abject failures. However, an 80-page civil complaint against NYCHA, filed in federal court on Monday, June 11th, unveiled a very different story; it claimed that NYCHA had trained its staff to fool federal inspectors and present false reports to the government about its compliance with, among other things, detecting and removing lethal lead paint.
Young children are especially susceptible to lead poisoning, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, causes delayed development and learning difficulties. This is certainly not what children in single-parent impoverished households need. But all of this was concealed by the people in charge at NYCHA, and at this moment we do not know how many children have been affected. (Even if only one child dies from nibbling on lead paint chips, what does that reveal about the NYCHA official who lied about cleaning them up?)
The federal complaint relayed utter “management dysfunction and organizational failure, including a culture where spin is often rewarded and accountability often does not exist.” NYCHA chose to settle with the government rather than go to trial, which means they know they are guilty and that a trial would only bring out a cornucopia of more sordid details.
According to the complaint, workers have turned off the water at times so federal inspectors would not see leaks and have built walls of plywood to cover particularly dilapidated apartments. In addition, staff members were given a “list of ‘Quick Fix Tips’ that served as a how-to manual for misleading inspectors.”
Now, stop and think about this—government employees trained and rewarded to cheat and cover sordid and dangerous living conditions. As the New York Times suggested, this is perhaps the lowest point in New York government history; government employees have been paid to lie about collective incompetency.
NYCHA admitted its guilt to avoid a trial (just imagine the parade of tenants with their lurid complaints during months and months of testimony).
Now, here is where it gets funny: NYCHA agreed to spend $1 billion to fix and better maintain the apartments and buildings over the next four years, and an additional $200 million a year for the following six years. But wait—these are our tax dollars, and each year my real estate tax increases.
Oh, oh—the Times picked up on how de Blasio finessed things at a City Hall news conference: initially, he claimed that he was “disgusted” by the NYCHA knaves, but then presented the settlement as if it were a much-needed new program for public housing residents (as if it were a program the City Council had just voted for).
Six-foot-five de Blasio graciously gave up the mic to the much shorter City Council President Corey Johnson, who preened about passing his low-fare subway bill (during all of my growing-up years the subway cost a nickel and, even then, some poor kids put in a slug.)