The Polo Grounds NYCHA towers in Harlem. (David “Dee” Delgado / Gothamist)
A federal judge has rejected a federal consent decree that was supposed to reform New York City’s troubled public housing authority. The agreement between federal prosecutors and the city came about after a scathing report accused NYCHA of attempting to conceal the deplorable conditions inside the hundreds of public housing developments it manages.
“This case is about the disastrous human toll resulting from a complete bureaucratic breakdown of the largest public housing agency in the United States,” Judge William Pauley wrote in his decision.
As part of the consent decree, the city agreed to provide NYCHA with more than $1 billion for repairs, plus an additional $1 billion in capital funds to NYCHA over the next four years. And a federal monitor was expected to develop a reform plan and then set the requirements for the housing authority to meet.
The judge pointed out that it has been five months since the decree was announced and no monitor has been found. He also noted that there’s no cap on the amount the monitor would be paid and said the government could provide no estimate other than to say it would be a substantial amount. (The housing authority has $17 billion in unmet capital needs, and is responsible for paying the monitor.) He also called out the two sides for fighting over the role the monitor would play, and noted that at the rate funding was being allocated, NYCHA wouldn’t have its needs met until the year 2166.
“This decision will not affect the record investment Mayor de Blasio has dedicated to reversing decades of divestment and mismanagement of public housing,” said the Mayor’s press secretary Eric Phillips. “For the sake of NYCHA’s residents, this Mayor’s reforms—including those outlined in the consent decree—will not stop and will not slow down.”
In his 52 page decision, Judge Pauley saved a large part of his criticism for how the Department of Housing and Urban Development was left out of the agreement. He said Congress has given HUD the power to crack down on troubled housing authorities and the agreement sidelines the federal agency. Pauley wrote that it was striking how HUD abdicated its responsibilities given “all of the Government’s allegations regarding the deplorable conditions of NYCHA housing and NYCHA’s deliberate attempts to pull the wool over HUD’s eyes.”
“Judge Pauley basically says, ‘I don’t see how I as an individual judge am the one that should be overseeing this instead of HUD who has the authority to run public housing and put in a receiver if things are going badly,’” said attorney Nicole Gueron from Clarick Gueron Reisbaum. Her firm represents tenant leaders who opposed the consent decree and who want a stronger role in how any reforms play out.
“They know when the heat isn’t working and when the power goes out because they’re living it. They know it sooner than any inspector and they should have a meaningful role and be included so that their voices are heard,” she said.
Federal prosecutors and the New York City Housing Authority are expected back in court in mid-December.
In a written statement, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District said, “We are reviewing the decision of the Court and will respond within the time frame set forth by Judge Pauley. The well-being of the over 400,000 NYCHA residents continues to be our paramount concern.”
HUD did not respond to our request for comment.