Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Comptroller Stringer Demands Answers on NYCHA Playgrounds

Comptroller’s April 2018 audit uncovered dangerous or deficient conditions in nearly three-quarters of NYCHA’s playgrounds — a failing that NYCHA has yet to properly address

As playgrounds reopened, Comptroller requested update from NYCHA Chair on critical inspections and repairs to ensure children in public housing have safe spaces to play this summer

   New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer is demanding answers from New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Chairman Greg Russ on the status of overdue inspections and repairs of NYCHA’s playgrounds. The Comptroller’s April 2018 audit found that nearly three-quarters of NYCHA’s playgrounds were in unsatisfactory or dangerous condition. Despite several promises for full inspections and corrective action following that audit, NYCHA has yet to provide a full accounting of its playground inspections or the condition of its 788 playgrounds in 238 developments.

Last month, NYCHA announced that it was reopening its playgrounds, which had been closed for several months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It did so without having provided the Comptroller with the promised results of the “first round” of inspections that NYCHA’s newly formed Playground Unit was to have completed by February 28, 2020 — a promise Chairman Russ made to the Comptroller by letter dated December 27, 2019.

Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit NYCHA developments particularly hard and that children in public housing need safe spaces to play outside this summer, the Comptroller asked the NYCHA Chairman to respond in writing with answers to specific questions by July 23, 2020. To date NYCHA has failed to respond.

The full text of the Comptroller’s letter can be found below.

Re: Status of NYCHA playgrounds repairs

Dear Chair Russ:

While the entire City has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, NYCHA residents, and particularly children living in NYCHA developments, have been particularly hard hit. Our young people have experienced trauma and loss, between the disruption of school, the stress of the pandemic, and disproportionally high mortality rates of their neighbors and loved ones. It has never been more urgent that children living in NYCHA have safe spaces to play this summer.

That is why I am writing to follow-up on my office’s April 2018 audit of NYCHA playground conditions that found nearly three-quarters of playgrounds in unsatisfactory or dangerous condition, and July 2019 letter demanding action to remedy the situation after NYCHA’s failure to act for more than a year after the audit was released. You have outlined a commitment to implement new practices, develop a masterplan, and create a new unit to ensure that all NYCHA play spaces are inspected, maintained, and repaired within 90 days; however, my office has not received any additional information indicating the implementation of these plans to date.

On June 22, 2020, New York City officially entered phase II of reopening and playgrounds across all five boroughs were allowed to reopen. On July 6, 2020, New York City officially entered Phase III of reopening allowing other outdoor play spaces including basketball courts to re-open. While the pandemic may have delayed some inspections or maintenance, as play spaces reopen, we must ensure that all children have equitable access to safe playgrounds. I therefore request your timely response and action on the following items to maintain safety at NYCHA playgrounds.

In your December 27, 2019 letter to my office, you indicated that NYCHA was in the process of reviewing solicitations for landscape architecture design services, to establish comprehensive baseline inspection data and masterplans for all play spaces. You also offered the following timeline:

  • November 2019-December 2019 – Solicitation released, addendum issued, and proposals received
  • January 2020 – Task Order to be issued (multiple landscape architecture firms anticipated)
  • February 2020-May 2020 – Phase 1 of Masterplan (Data Collection and Analysis) to be shared with the Comptroller’s Office
  • June 2020-September 2020 – Phase 2 of Masterplan (Masterplan Design of All Sites in Scope) to be shared with the Comptroller’s Office

1) What is the status of these plans and when can my office expect to receive them for review?

You also shared that while the masterplan is in development you would implement an interim strategy that included the formation of a new Playground Unit composed of maintenance workers. You outlined that this new unit would be expected to inspect play spaces and secure or mitigate hazardous conditions and meet regularly with the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) to learn best practices and refine training protocols. You informed my office that the Unit would finish its first round of inspections of all of NYCHA’s play spaces by February 28, 2020 and that this work would continue on a monthly basis thereafter. Moreover, you committed to collate the results and provide them to my office shortly after February 28, 2020. However, my office has still not received this data.

2) Please provide documentation confirming when the Playground Unit completed its first round of inspections, as well as any inspections that occurred in the months thereafter, and any inspections scheduled for the future.

3) In accordance with your prior commitment, please provide a collated report of the results of the inspections including a full accounting of all deficiencies noted during NYCHA’s playground inspections undertaken by this Unit to date, including but not limited to hazardous and potentially hazardous conditions, and any corrective action taken thus far.

4) Please also confirm whether the Unit met with DPR and if so, whether this training is still ongoing.

I understand that as part of an Agreement with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Southern District of New York, and the City of New York, NYCHA created Compliance and Quality Assurance Departments to address the various health and safety issues that you admit had long been neglected. In your previous letter to my office you indicated NYCHA would review all of its Standard Procedures and establish an inspection baseline that these new Departments will validate.

5) Please advise whether this review is complete, and whether any reforms have been made to these procedures, please respond with the date it was officially rescinded, superseded, or revised, with supporting documentation for any such change.

Additionally, you informed my office that the Compliance and Quality Assurance Departments are charged with ensuring that procedures, statues, rules and regulations are consistently followed across all departments.

6) Are these Departments reviewing all play space inspection records for accuracy and completeness?

7) Please provide an accounting of all inspections performed to date (including but not limited to those performed within the 90-day period following March 22, 2018) with applicable dates and identifying the specific playgrounds inspected, listing the developments and location (street address). If none were performed, please so state.

You further indicated that technological upgrades were required to enable the results of play space inspections and corrective actions to be tracked, monitored, and reported out electronically in an automated and systematic fashion.

8) What is the status of these IT upgrades and when are they expected to be complete?

Please provide a written response to these questions and document requests by July 23, 2020. I am also available to meet with you at any time to discuss NYCHA’s plans to adopt my office’s audit recommendations.


Scott Stringer

New York City Comptroller

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