Meet the City’s Half-Million-Dollar Man: New York’s Highest-Paid Employee
NYCHA General Manager Vito Mustaciuolo cashed in years of unused vacation to boost his paycheck to $515,000 — more than the mayor and governor combined. Meanwhile, pandemic shutdowns didn’t stop his work crews’ overtime bills from rising.
The executive who manages the city’s troubled Housing Authority made it to the top of the civil servant heap last year with a paycheck of $515,000 — more than any other municipal employee, newly released data show.
Vito Mustaciuolo, general manager and chief operating officer of NYCHA, collected more pay in fiscal 2021 than the mayor and governor’s combined salaries under an unusual arrangement that allowed him to cash in far more vacation days than is usually allowed.
Mayor bill de Blasio asked Mustaciuolo to serve as general manager of NYCHA in 2018, switching from his position as a top official with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. At the time, the department only allowed employees to cash in 261 unused vacation days, and NYCHA would only accept a transfer of 54 days.
But Mustaciuolo said he would take the NYCHA job only if he could get a payout for every unused vacation day he’d accrued over 39 years on the city payroll. That came to 662 days.
Alicia Glen, then de Blasio deputy mayor for housing and economic development, arranged a workaround, getting NYCHA Chairperson Gregory Russ and NYCHA’s personnel office to grant Mustaciuolo’s wish.
Barbara Brancaccio, a NYCHA spokesperson, confirmed the unusual arrangement and emphasized that the authority’s share of Mustaciuolo’s vacation payout would reimbursed by City Hall. No federal funds would be involved, she added.
“NYCHA’s Chief Operating Officer Vito Mustaciuolo has nearly 40 years of dedicated service to New York City,” Brancaccio wrote in response to THE CITY’s questions. “Over four decades, he rarely took time off and when he was recruited to work at NYCHA, it was agreed that he would be compensated for this time.”
All told in the 2021 fiscal year, which ended June 30, Mustaciulo pulled in a $258,000 salary, with another $257,000 for the time off he’d accrued during his lengthy career as a city employee.
No. 2 on the list of highest paid city employees in the 2021 fiscal year is Russ, who was paid $414,000, according to payroll data compiled and released by the non-partisan government transparency group Empire Center for Public Policy.
“This type of salary is outrageous. Between the Chair and the GM/COO, that’s nearly one million dollars,” City Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Brooklyn), the nominee to be HUD Region II administrator, told THE CITY.
“Residents and advocates have long questioned the salaries across NYCHA executives, for good reason,” added Ampry-Samuel, who chairs the Council’s Public Housing Committee. “For an agency with so many challenges that have not been solved or addressed, how can the city justify that level of overtime? And at what point do we put a cap on certain spending levels? It’s just inappropriate.”
Peter Warren, director of research for the non-partisan Empire Center, called the payout “very unusual.”
“It’s very rare for these big lump sums for people who are not leaving,” he told THE CITY.
Mustaciuolo and Russ aren’t the only NYCHA staffers listed as top-earners on the city payroll. Several NYCHA plumbers and electricians also racked up big six-figure salaries by picking up massive amounts of overtime, the data show.
Excessive overtime is a perennial problem at NYCHA and appears to have worsened during the pandemic.
NYCHA overtime costs rose from $96 million in the 2019 fiscal year, the last full year before the virus struck, to $138 million in fiscal 2020, which ended in June 2020 — a 45% jump.
OT climbed again to $144 million in the year that ended June 30, 2021, according to the new payroll data.
A NYCHA plumber pulled in $356,000 — making him the ninth highest-paid worker in the city.
Overtime put several veteran NYCHA tradespeople at the top of the city’s earners.
Take supervising plumber Robert Procida, who has long been near the top of NYCHA’s overtime scorecard.
Pre-pandemic, Procida took home $181,000 in OT in fiscal 2019. The next year he took home $215,000, then $248,000 in fiscal 2021.
That brought his total pay to $356,000 — making him the ninth highest-paid worker in the city.
Procida pulled in close to the $360,000 earned that year by then-Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, and well above the $253,000 earned by de Blasio and the $223,000 in pay Andrew Cuomo got in fiscal 2020 before he resigned in disgrace as governor.
NYCHA Repairs Lag
All these high-octane payments came as the authority struggled to provide safe, healthy conditions for 400,000 public housing residents.
The authority has fallen far behind in meeting its promised reforms under a consent decree regarding the issue of mold cleanup in apartments, which is pending in federal court. Back in 2018, NYCHA had promised to address underlying causes of mold, such as busted pipes, within 15 days of a repair request.
As of last month, managers had met the deadline only 3.7% of the time, records show.
After the pandemic struck in March 2020, NYCHA was forced to cut back on repairs for a time while trying to help stem the spread of the virus by significantly reducing the assignment of staff going into apartments.
As a result, the number of unfulfilled repair requests steadily rose — from 461,000 in October 2020 to a record 583,000 last month.
Nonetheless, throngs of New Yorkers still seek NYCHA apartments: The number of applicants on a waiting list reached 241,400 last month, a significant 18% jump from 204,100 in October 2020.