by Larry McShane for The New York Daily News
August 2, 2012
City housing officials, in addition to sitting on nearly $1 billion in federal funds, were too inept to collect another $600 million in available revenue, a civic improvement group charged last year.
In a letter to Mayor Bloomberg, the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation complained the New York City Housing Authority's management was beset by "delay, confusion and complaints."
The Sept. 26, 2011, missive obtained by The News blamed NYCHA for blowing a shot at collecting millions in much-needed additional cash by its failure to simply apply for a second helping of money.
"NYCHA seems to lack the capacity to put credible applications together for these desperately needed funds," the pointed letter said.
"And the sources of the revenue have limited confidence in NYCHA's capacity to spend these funds wisely."
The agency did collect $270 million in 2005 by applying for a second round of funding through the city Housing Development Corp. — and could have done so again, the group said.
The Metro Industrial Areas Foundation is a nonprofit organization comprised of 204 affiliates — mostly local congregations and nonprofit groups. The group also suggested applying to the feds for additional funds under its energy efficiency program for public housing.
The letter blasted NYCHA for its tortoise-paced response to tenant complaints for repair work across the five boroughs.
"NYCHA claims that at least it is honest now — giving people likely dates, however long in the future," the group wrote. "We say this is not even close to good enough."
The group acknowledged there were "periods of modest improvement" in the sprawling agency during Bloomberg's three terms in office.
"But the overall pattern is one of delay, confusion and complaints about lack of adequate funding," the two-page letter read.
"As a result, tenants often wait years for basic repairs to conditions that threaten their health and safety."
Thousands of very young and the very old residents of the NYCHA's 334 projects are subjected to serious health concerns by inattention to mold and miserable ventilation systems, the letter said.
"The prevalence of asthma among the children of NYCHA families has been well-documented," the letter said.
The group blasted almost every aspect of NYCHA's handling of complaints from its 400,000 residents.
"We have struggled to push NYCHA to improve its basic functions — responding to maintenance requests from tenants, coordinating the way repairs of scheduled and sequenced . . . making sure that the local workforce is well-managed and focused," the letter said.
The mayor's office never responded to the letter, although the Bronx borough office of the NYCHA replied that plans were in the works to get the repairs done.
"There was nothing from City Hall," said Marielys Divanne.
Months before penning the letter, members of the group met with NYCHA Chairman John Rhea and then-Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott to discuss their concerns about the lack of repair work in the buildings.
Neither Walcott nor the mayor's office responded to requests for comment on the IAF letter or earlier meetings with the group to discuss NYCHA.
Divanne, one of four people who signed the letter to Bloomberg, said her group felt they didn't get a fair shake.
"They heard what we had to say, but they were defensive," she recounted about a November 2010 meeting with Walcott and Rhea.
"They felt that they had a plan to preserve NYCHA, and they were confident in that plan, and they weren't open to some of our ideas."
In a briefing memo before a Jan. 18, 2011, meeting with NYCHA execs, the Metro IAF team was reminded of its key complaints:
— The agency "has made NO progress that we can see or document in the daily maintenance and response to the vast majority of tenants."
— The agency was "leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table."
Divanne said her group was particularly focused on handling small repairs before they evolved into major problems.
"What they're doing now is deferred maintenance, and we're going to end up paying twice or triple the money NYCHA needs now," she said. "It's just going to continue to get worse until things are changed."
The Daily News, in a series of articles, reported that NYCHA was sitting on close to $1 billion in federal funds intended for building upkeep.
The housing authority — where the top salaries run close to $200,000 a year — also delayed spending $42 million in funds for security cameras in high-crime city buildings.
A suspect in the July 5 shooting of Officer Brian Groves, 30, remains on the loose after a shootout in a stairwell with no cameras.
Mayor Bloomberg, despite the unused funds and criticism from tenants, praised the efforts of Rhea.
Rhea and his two top executives are all Bloomberg appointees.
And Rhea, in a lengthy interview with The News, said he earned his $197,000 salary — as did two colleagues paid $187,000 annually.
Metro IAF's critiques surfaced on the same day that the Daily News reported on a scathing NYCHA audit conducted by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
In a stinging report, the agency was ripped for its high salaries and the costs of hidden perks — including city cars and drivers for top executives.
The Stringer critique urged changes to start at the top of the agency, noting that NYCHA is the only public housing authority in the state with full-time, highly paid board members.
Elsewhere in the state, the salary for authority board jobs is capped at $2,500.
"The administration won't face the reality that NYCHA is not equipped to handle the issues facing public housing in the city," said Divanne.
"We want to make sure people go home and feel safe, and live in healthy environments. Instead, people wait for years and their health deteriorates."