There are 400,000 people who live in public housing in this city. 400,000 good New Yorkers who every day work hard to make ends meet, 400,000 who are part of the backbone of this City. And I have been in public service for decades and I’ve spent a lot of time with the people who live in public housing, listening to their concerns and needs, working with them to try to improve their reality.
I want to honor those people today with the actions we are taking because we have to take new and bold actions to address the challenges at NYCHA and we do it for them because they deserve safe and livable homes and they have for decades. The problems we’ll talk about today have very long and deep origins but I want the entire discussion to focus on the people and what we have to do to make their lives better in the years ahead.
This is a pivotal moment for those 400,000 New Yorkers. This is a pivotal moment for the future of public housing in New York City. We have reached a settlement with United States Attorney and this settlement will help to improve the safety and the quality of life for those 400,000 New Yorkers who live in public housing. It was not the easiest action to take, it was certainly not the traditional action to take in government, we did something very different here, and I made this decision because I believed it was the right thing to do.
I’ll talk about what this entails in a moment, but I think it is important also to talk about how we got here. This story goes back decades, I would mark it back to the election of 1980, and since that time progressively every level of government has failed the people who live in public housing in this city, it’s failed men, it’s failed women, it’s failed children. The federal government disinvested progressively over years but the City and the State government often turned their backs on public housing as well.
That status quo was broken at the time I entered this office and in too many ways it’s still broken. Even though my colleagues and I here did not create it, it is our job to fix it. And I want to be very clear when I ran for this office, I did not run for this office to continue a broken status quo. It will be my sacred mission to fix the reality in public housing and set the stage additional improvements in the years after I have completed my term in office.
I want to say the outset that this will be a long and tough battle. The ideas in the consent decree are the right ones but they also indicate a huge challenge ahead. It will take many years to undo that which has been broken. I want to be honest with my 400,000 fellow New Yorkers, you will see changes each year, you will see improvements each year, but to address the totality of the problems recognizing the consent decree will take a long time and a huge amount of resources.
Problems that were created over the course of decades are not solved in mere months or even just a few years in the real world, our job is to fix them more and more each year, and as best we can, and as fast as we can. Now historically and legally NYCHA of course has been its own entity chartered by the federal government, the State government. The City of New York was not obligated to fund NYCHA in any particular manner.
When this administration took office we made a very different decision than that of many of our predecessors, we decided it was important to provide additional and new funding to NYCHA from the very beginning, and the first preliminary budget of 2014 we ended the payments that NYCHA had had to make for many years for reasons that I find inexplicable, payment for police service that no similar institution would have had to cover. That money was turned back to NYCHA so to start addressing the repair backlog. A number of other choices were made over the years, previous to anything you see in the news, today’s consent decree. Those investments added up to $3.7 billion in new funding for NYCHA that this administration is committed in the last four years, not because we were obligated to do it, but because it was the moral and right thing to do because people needed the help and deserved it. That’s why I see the consent decree as an appropriate next step in that progression.
Now I want to be clear, I want to be straightforward, we can’t hold ourselves blameless either. This administration also has made mistakes. There are too many times that things happen on our watch that we didn’t know about, but that is still our responsibility. Inspections, of course, that were supposed to been done in terms of lead paint halted before we got here but I wish to the depths of my soul we had learned that immediately and we would’ve acted on it the moment we found out. We did not achieve that mission, when we did find out, we acted decisively, but I don’t want to hold any element of government blameless.
This administration, previous city administrations, state governments, or federal government, I think the honest reality is that everyone has been a part of this, and everyone has to now be part of the solution. And we can spend a whole lot of time talking about what went wrong in the past, we can revisit the past, and that’s important to do, but more important is to fix what’s broken. People live in public housing need action and they need it as quickly as possible and that’s where our focus will be.
We are very clear-eyed about the scale of the problem and I don’t want anyone to think that because I understand this will take years and years that that is indication of any lack of urgency. We feel tremendous urgency to address these problems but I never want to in any way suggest to the people who live in NYCHA something that is not true and is not going to happen. I want them to know that the work will happen every day, improvement will be real and constant, but again it will take years. People deserve the truth, it will take years to fix these underlying problems.
That said, there are reasons for some optimism because some things are working better and it’s important to note that as well. Repair times have come down in NYCHA over the last few years because the investment was there and that has affected real people’s lives. Crime has come down at NYCHA and again, I said I spent years talking to and working with NYCHA residents, crime was often the number one concern. Thank God, between there good efforts, the efforts of NYCHA, and of course the efforts of the NYPD, there has been a steady reduction in crime at NYCHA and I want to emphasize the NYPD deserves tremendous praise, but NYCHA was a big part of that work as well.
Fixing the physical realities that so often made it harder to start crime, providing more lighting, getting scaffolding down, a number of things that really made a difference, and the people of NYCHA, the resident patrols and the leaders and the activists who did so much. And I want to thank the NYCHA residents who are here, some many of whom have been part of the solution, who fought for safer developments, that is a success story that can give us some real heart as we move forward on these other challenges.
NYCHA, the first day I took on this job, was near bankruptcy. The team at City Hall and the team at NYCHA turned that around, it is a financially solvent organization today that is the basis for all the other changes we need to make. These things happened, they signify the potential for real change in NYCHA, we’ve seen some change, a lot more has to come. Even in the area of lead where there have been so many mistakes, as of today every apartment that was mandated to inspected under Local Law 1 of this city, every apartment that was mandated for 2017 was inspected, remediation efforts have occurred in 90 percent of those apartments. I want to make very clear the remainder are in situations where residents have not granted access or it’s been for some reason or another difficult to schedule access. I want to be clear with everyone that any resident who has an apartment that requires remediation must give access to NYCHA for that work to be done, if they do not grant access we will use other means to gain access. I’m not going to have an apartment that has any lead present that is not remediated. We will use whatever means we need to address that situation.
Another very important development, and a very positive development, is the new leadership at NYCHA sitting beside me today. Stan Brezenoff has taken on the job as Chair, Stan has seen this city through some of its toughest times in the aftermath of the fiscal crisis, he is one of the people who helped lead New York City back, and as recently as last year, he helped to turn around a Health and Hospitals Corporation that was also teetering on bankruptcy and ensured the continuity of our public hospitals and clinics.
A herculean effort that has brought stability to Health + Hospitals – that turn around skill, that ability to make the tough choices, to right a complex organization is what Stan Brezenoff brings to the table and is proven over and over again. NYCHA is a city within a city, I want to emphasize this, 400,000 people. It is an extraordinary complex organization. The areas addressed in the consent decree are crucial but there are many, many other aspects of NYCHA, all of NYCHA must keep operating, it must keep improving. I mention public safety, the consent decree does not address public safety but every single day Stan and Vito and all of the people who work at NYCHA have to focus on public safety in addition to so many other areas who are depending on Stan’s leadership and it’s been proven time and time again.
Vito Mustaciuolo is a legend in city government for those who have seen his work up close, I’ve known him for a decade. He’s one of the most hands on managers I’ve ever met in all of my years in public service. He is legendary for challenging landlords all over New York City who are not providing their tenants with proper heat and hot water and repairs and making them fix those problems. He is strong and he is resolute and a man of extraordinary integrity. These leaders, I am convinced are the right people for this moment to take this situation and turn it around.
The consent decree gives us a mutual framework for action with the federal government. I’m sure there will be questions about why I decided to sign the city on to this. And again it was not the traditional act. But I felt that being in accord with the federal government was important, being on the same page – the City, NYCHA, HUD, U.S. Attorney, will a common vision of how we move forward was important to the future. We agreed to create a common game plan. We agreed to address serious issues that had to be addressed. We agreed for all that we had to do in the short term but we also agreed because it was the best path way to the future. The City commits $1 billion in capital funds over the next four years in addition to $200 million per year thereafter for as long as the consent decree continues. I think you all know by now there’s a five year minimum term to the consent decree.
Our hope of course is that given this extraordinary commitment by the City, that now the State of New York will come forward with the half billion dollars previously committed to NYCHA and provide that money so we can do additional good work to protect our residents. Also crucial is that the State authorize design-build authority for all the work at NYCHA to ensure that every effort undertaken whether it be on lead, or elevators, or heat, or any other matter be done as quickly as possible. I remind everyone that design-build in many cases, shaves a year off a major construction project. That should be made available for all NYCHA efforts. This agreement fosters a culture of compliance which clearly was not sufficient at NYCHA previously, formalizes a compliance office and a Chief Compliance Officer. This is about ensuring that everyone does their job and rooting out any misconduct which we will not tolerate. We know that there have been elements of the institutional culture at NYCHA that were simply broken. We have to systematically root them out.
Now I mentioned why it was important to come to a common understanding with the federal government. We believe that the City’s history with federal monitors had been a positives one. It’s important to say this. We have currently a federal monitor at the NYPD. The NYPD is acknowledged all over the country, all over the world as the greatest police organization there is and yet it has a federal monitor this very moment. That monitor has been a very constructive, positive force working with the NYPD. We have a federal monitor at the Department of Correction, also an example of a constructive, positive relationship that has yielded positive outcomes for all. I have seen with my own eyes that federal monitorships can work for everyone and we have faith that that will be the case here.
Crucial to the equation is the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. And important commitments are made in the consent decree. We can talk about some other things that aren’t in the consent decree but there are important commitments that are there. It’s clear in the consent decree that HUD will work with the City and NYCHA to review and expedite a number of waivers and elements of regulatory reform that could also help to speed up the work that NYCHA does to address underlying problems and support the residents. It’s clear in the consent decree that HUD will immediately lift any restrictions on funding to NYCHA so the flow on money can continue. It’s clear in the consent decree that HUD cannot reduce funding because of any new commitments made by the City. These are important steps. We want an atmosphere of collegiality with HUD and mutual purpose and I think this helps us to get there. I also think it paves the way for a future which I can begin to see the outlines of in which the federal government once again gets back to the important work of supporting affordable housing and public housing in this city and in this country. None of us can predict what’s going to happen in the upcoming election or the one after that but I do believe there are substantial signs of change coming. And I believe this consent decree creates a corporative environment that will help pave the way to that day when we look forward to receiving the kind of federal support we need to complete the missions outlined in the consent decree.
I want to be very clear that this process has been a really challenging one for everyone involved. We’ve had to review a lot of information that was downright painful. When I saw the federal complaint it made me angry as all hell to know that there were some people in NYCHA who withheld information, tried to deceive the federal government and NYCHA’s own leadership. It disgusted me. It’s unacceptable. We are going to review our leadership, Stan Brezenoff and Vito Mustaciuolo are going to review the complaint very carefully. I emphasize the complaint is a series of allegations and we will independently review them and if we find that any individuals who work for NYCHA did anything inappropriate there will be very serious consequences for them. They way forward involves recognizing the extent of the problems and being resolute in acting on them. In the end I believe this was the best way to achieve that goal. I believe in my heart this was the right thing to do and it sets us on a path forward for the 400,000 people who live in our public housing.
It’s very important to be able to say exactly what someone commits to you in life and our conversations with the U.S. Attorney there was a clear request and an unprecedented request – to provide funding for the long term, in two forms, one to continue our existing funding streams that we committed to before any discussion of the consent decree, we committed to in our own budget process. I believe that was the right thing to do for the people who live in public housing. When we took away that requirement for NYCHA to pay for police services, I never intended that to be temporary, I believe that needed to be a permanent change. We codified this in this legal agreement. That is binding on my successors and I think that is the right thing to do. I think it should be binding on my successors. We codify long term, additional capital spending commitments, also binding on whoever holds this seat after me and I think that is the right thing to do. I think there should have been binding commitments to the 400,000 people who live in NYCHA a long time ago. So I can certainly look all of them in the eye and say we have skin in the game, we’ve made our commitments, we are perfectly comfortable that they are legally binding because they deserve nothing less.