by Greg B. Smith for The New York Daily News

January 31, 2013

Mayor Bloomberg promised Thursday to eliminate a stunning backlog of 420,000 public housing apartment repairs by the end of the year.

But critics were skeptical the city could meet its goals.

"Today we announce a comprehensive action plan which we think will tackle the repair backlog head on," the mayor declared at a press conference in the Drew-Hamilton Houses in East Harlem.

The mayor and his appointee, NYCHA Chairman John Rhea, said they'd spend $40 million on more front-line repairmen whose work will be better coordinated.

Critics were dubious, given that NYCHA's 400,000 tenants have come to expect long-running repair delays.

"We are skeptical that the same executive team that fouled up every other initiative will be able to implement this long-delayed commitment," said Rev. Getulio Cruz of Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, a group of non-profits that recently accused NYCHA of ignoring thousands of mold complaints.

Cruz noted that Bloomberg has 334 days until his term ends, and vowed that Metro IAF's nonprofits "intend to keep his feet to the fire every single one of those days" on NYCHA's repairs.

Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents 7,000 NYCHA workers, offered tepid praise for the mayor's promises.

"This plan looks good on paper and could well work," Floyd said. "We will evaluate the plan's progress over the next quarter."

Last summer the Daily News uncovered a huge repair backlog at NYCHA — some 10,000 requests for repairs weren't scheduled to be addressed until 2014. As of Thursday, the latest repair is set for December 2014.

In August Chairman Rhea said there were 340,000 backlogged repairs, and the list was growing. On Thursday he revealed it's since jumped to 420,000, though he insisted 100,000 of those were completed repairs that had not yet been logged into NYCHA's computers.

Cecil House, the general manager NYCHA hired in August to reform the agency, confirmed that to meet the goal of eliminating the entire backlog by year's end, NYCHA will have to average nearly 1,000 repairs each day.

So far the authority has dedicated $40 million to the new repair campaign, including $10 million from the City Council. Rhea said the rest would come from savings realized by cuts in administrative costs, though he declined to say if any bureaucrats had lost their jobs.

Rhea also said the agency has reshuffled its repair system, making sure proper material and equipment is now available .

The News revealed in August that NYCHA's system of tracking material and equipment is in disarray, with $150 million in materials that's never been inventoried stored in 5,000 warehouses. Some $30 million of those materials are now too old or damaged to be of use.

Rhea promised the new system would better coordinate the buildings trades, such as plumbers, electricians and plasterers, to make sure the correct repairman shows up.

And he promised to post statistics quarterly on the number of outstanding repairs.

During Thursday's press conference, Bloomberg again attacked The News' reporting on NYCHA. "John Rhea and NYCHA's people have been grossly and unfairly criticized by people who don't know what they're talking about," he said.

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