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NYCHA Reaches Deal to Monitor Mold Mess at Privately Run Buildings

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South Williamsburg NYCHA residents protest work being done on the building through new private management, Jan. 11, 2020.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The city Housing Authority announced a groundbreaking new plan Thursday to aggressively monitor public housing apartments once they’re placed into private management to ensure that tenants aren’t plagued by toxic mold. 

The new agreement is part of court-monitored oversight of NYCHA’s persistent mold problems and comes after multiple reports that private sector managers and contractors weren’t properly cleaning up potentially dangerous problems such as mold and lead paint. 

“This agreement is a further step to ensuring NYCHA and its partners operate and manage all properties in a way that provides safe and quality housing to all of our residents,” said NYCHA Chair and CEO Gregory Russ. 

NYCHA reached the agreement with Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, the nonprofit coalition of community and faith-based organizations that sued in 2013 over mold repair failures and got court oversight installed. It now goes to Manhattan federal judge Loretta Preska for review.

The Rev. Getulio Cruz Jr., a leader in Metro-IAF, said the new plan “strikes a critical balance, which, if approved, will be a real benefit to tenants.”

Little Oversight

In the last year, THE CITY has reported on how NYCHA official performed little to no oversight once they’d placed management of developments into private hands under an Obama-era federal program called Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD.

NYCHA calls its local version of the federal program Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT).

Either way, private managers finance millions of dollars in renovations to the buildings and then run them and collect all the taxpayer-subsidized rent. 

In some cases, hazardous mold infestations have been discovered in apartments that had supposedly been cleaned up by private contractors. In one instance, a supervisor in charge of renovations at a Kips Bay development possessed a federal license to oversee lead paint cleanups that had expired a decade earlier.

A NYCHA complex on East 28th Street in Manhattan that moved to private management.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/ THE CITY

Mold has been a recurring issue in thousands of NYCHA’s 175,000 apartments, the vast majority of which were built at least 50 years ago.  

The Metro-IAF suit led to a 2013 consent decree that provided for ongoing court oversight and many specific pledges for reform. Yet NYCHA has since struggled to fulfill its promises. Its vow to fully clean up mold repairs caused by complex issues within 15 days has been achieved in only about 4% of requests.

In the last two years, it emerged that the RAD program was undermining the court agreement: NYCHA’s lawyers revealed that once a development goes into RAD, they’re no longer covered. In April the federal judge then assigned to the case ordered all sides back to the drawing board to work out a solution.

The new protocols are designed to fix that problem.

Officials at both Metro-IAF and NYCHA said the plan going forward is to ensure that the requirements for mold cleanup spelled out by the court case will still be in place for developments placed into PACT. 

The Fine Print

The seven-page agreement states that:

  • NYCHA will investigate and address a building manager’s “alleged failure to comply with its mold and excessive moisture obligations.”
  • NYCHA will require those managers to address all open mold and excessive moisture repair requests within 60 days after they officially enter the RAD program.
  • After they’re in the RAD program, NYCHA will require private managers to clean up all mold and excessive moisture complaints going forward within 30 days.
  • Building managers must submit monthly reports identifying all unresolved mold complaints to NYCHA as well as an independent data analyst and a special master who are already part of the court agreement.
  • PACT tenants will regain their ability to register mold complaints with an ombudsman hired under the court case. The ombudsman will also look into every mold case that hasn’t been resolved by the required 30-day deadline.
  • NYCHA, the ombudsman and the special master will pick an analyst for all RAD developments who will perform a “statistically significant” number of random inspections at each development. 

As part of the agreement, the private managers also got an escape clause: They’re eligible to get out of the program after a period ranging from 12 to 18 months after they’ve officially finished construction at their developments.

But that can only happen if they demonstrate they have protocols in place to aggressively clean up mold in a manner that echoes those laid out in the court agreement.

NYCHA — the biggest public housing authority in the nation — is also currently under the watchful eye of a federally appointed monitor after the Manhattan U.S. attorney uncovered a longstanding pattern of deceit and mismanagement.

The agreement filed Thursday does not change one other aspect of RAD: when a development goes under private management in that program, the federal monitor no longer has oversight over nearly all aspects of management. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he intended to place 62,000 apartments — about one third of all NYCHA units — into RAD. As he prepares to leave office, about 11,000 are currently in the program. 

Incoming Mayor-elect Eric Adams has said he supports continuing the switch to RAD, as long as tenants have consistent input into how it gets done.

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