The federal government on Wednesday moved to extend for another five years an independent monitorship that’s been maintaining full-time oversight of NYCHA, the nation’s biggest public housing authority, since 2019.
HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams announced they have begun accepting applications from “qualified individuals” to continue as NYCHA’s watchdog, a role created by a Jan. 31, 2019, deal between the federal government and the long-troubled housing authority to keep promised reforms on track.
Under that agreement, NYCHA could move to get out of the monitorship after five years, and the deadline for seeking termination of the agreement had been just seven months away.
But to end it, NYCHA would have to show that it was in substantial compliance with several specific goals to upgrade its buildings outlined in the original agreement. Those include adequately cleaning up toxic mold and dangerous lead paint, upgrading failing elevators and aging boiler systems, and eradicating the vermin population that plagues so many of its 172,000 apartments.
As of this week, NYCHA is nowhere near meeting any of those goals.
Since March 2019, the current monitor, former federal prosecutor Bart Schwartz, has pushed NYCHA to reorganize its top management, upgrade its use of technology to speed up responses to repair requests, and more aggressively abate lead paint from apartments where children under age 6 live.
There have been some successes, with a total shuffle of the top positions at NYCHA’s headquarters, a more efficient response to lead paint abatement and a somewhat more organized approach to addressing mold complaints.
But the initiative to replace faulty elevators is way behind schedule, the campaign to improve NYCHA’s aging heat and hot water systems has been hampered by the poor condition of so many aging systems throughout NYCHA’s 320 developments, and NYCHA recently revealed it needs $3 billion to address thousands of code violations to its building’s facades.
HUD and federal prosecutors set no deadline for receiving applications for the monitorship. Traditionally many big law firms and corporate consultants handle this kind of work, and late Wednesday Schwartz told THE CITY he planned to apply to continue his work as monitor for another five years..
On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Williams declined to speak to THE CITY about the reason they decided to keep a monitorship in place for another five years.
HUD Secretary Fudge also declined to explain the decision, stating, “The current 5-year Monitorship comes to an end in early 2024. This process of selecting a Monitor for the second five-year term of the monitorship is required under the January 31, 2019, settlement agreement between HUD, NYCHA, and the City of New York.”
NYCHA spokesperson Barbara Brancaccio also declined to discuss the decision.
The original HUD agreement with NYCHA followed the Manhattan U.S. Attorney filing a civil lawsuit detailing how NYCHA management had covered up and misled the federal housing agency, tenants and the public at large about what they were doing to address squalid conditions of thousands of apartments.
The suit was withdrawn after then-Mayor Bill de Blasio, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman agreed to craft an agreement that would no longer involve oversight by a federal judge.
Instead that job would fall to an independent monitor chosen by the mayor from a short list of candidates approved by HUD and the Manhattan U.S. attorney. NYCHA was consulted in the selection process but did not have a role in picking who got the job.
Schwartz and his consultant firm, Guidepost Solutions, have been acting as monitors since Feb. 28, 2019, under a contract with the city Law Department that lists a current amount of $74.4 million. Records show that as of last month, they’d been paid nearly $50 million.