Open entry doors and busted locks in public housing have been a problem for decades, but a new “structural field review” from city Comptroller Brad Lander, who called it an example of “resident-powered auditing,” shows that the problem has gotten much worse over the last few years. 

The review by the Comptroller’s Audit Bureau of 262 New York City Housing Authority developments between Aug. 3 and Sept. 8 and obtained first by THE CITY found that almost three in five buildings, 57.9%, were unsecured — with entry doors that were open, locks that were broken, or both — nearly three times the 23.5% of buildings that were unsecured in 2018. 

In all, 66% of doors in Brooklyn were unsecured, 63.5% of those in The Bronx,  and more than 35% of those in Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. The percentage of unsecured doors was up by double digits since 2018 in every borough except Manhattan (up 9.2%) — from 28.1% in Queens to 49.1% in Brooklyn.

The ugly results of the comptroller’s audit, undertaken in response to resident complaints in a survey from Lander’s office and subsequent meetings with tenants, didn’t surprise Norma Saunders, the president of the Bronx River Tenant Association representing 225 apartments of senior-only housing in Soundview. 

“I’ve lived here all of my life,” Saunders told THE CITY. “Safety-wise, my biggest concern as TA President is not having secured doors.”

Lander’s team sent the audit’s results to NYCHA Interim Chief Executive Officer Lisa Bona-Hiatt, along with a letter noting that the developments might be in violation of the city’s rule requiring “automatic self-closing and self-locking doors.”

In a statement sent Wednesday evening, after this story was published, a spokesperson for the housing authority said that “NYCHA takes the safety and security of residents very seriously and will work to repair all of the broken doors and building locks identified in this report.“

A Lack of Trust

 Lander said the audit was “essential” to get ahead of problems before they become scandals: “You know, we can’t wait until there’s lead poisoning or reports of arsenic in the water… If we don’t actually make these repairs, more and more buildings will become uninhabitable over time. It’s just at a level of crisis. That demands comprehensive attention.”

In a release, Lander bemoaned the distrust between public housing residents and City Hall.

“As we’ve listened to hundreds of NYCHA residents at Family Days, structured roundtables, and informal discussions this summer, it’s been agonizing to hear the level of frustration, distrust, and appalling conditions they endure,” the comptroller wrote.  “But making sure building entry doors close and lock is one meaningful, achievable step to restoring basic services, safety, and trust.”      

1440 Bronx River Ave. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Lander’s report came a week after he’d visited the Bronx River Houses, where residents aired their grievances with the living conditions, including trash outside, dirty staircases inside and unsecured doors.

Having witnessed decades of neglect, Saunders isn’t convinced that the Housing Authority or City Hall are thinking long term about how solving problems now could mean fewer of them in the future.

“They come, and they promise you all sorts of things,” she said. “And I’m not gonna say the community is ignorant, but unfortunately people believe because that’s all they have to do is believe. They believe they’re gonna come and spend millions of dollars for security cameras and doors and windows as soon as people are in office” and yet the problems keep getting worse.

“If NYCHA stopped putting one Band-Aid on three bullet holes, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”