Public housing residents decry bugs, rodents and danger
By LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Dozens of the 400,000 residents of the nation’s largest public housing system emotionally told a judge Wednesday what it’s like to live with rats and cockroaches and mold in buildings where elevators, heat and running water are unreliable.
“We cannot live safety and healthily in these terrible conditions,” said Monica Underwood, one of the residents.
The voices were added to 700 others who described their lives in letters before U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III heard comment on a proposed $2 billion settlement of lawsuits aimed at holding the New York City Housing Authority, known as NYCHA, responsible for decades of neglect.
Lawyers for the city, the federal government and NYCHA urged Pauley, a Manhattan jurist, to approve the deal, which includes the appointment of a monitor. An organization representing tenants urged its rejection, saying more money and expertise should be part of the settlement.
The judge did not immediately rule whether the deal was fair, reasonable and adequate, though he cautioned that “problems of this magnitude cannot be fixed overnight.”
According to a consent decree, the city agreed to pay $1 billion over four years and an additional $200 million annually for the following six years.
The litigation came after investigators learned that widespread mismanagement at NYCHA had failed to respond properly to thousands of annual complaints by residents about lead paint, broken elevators and locks, insufficient heat, mold and an infestation of rats, cockroaches and bedbugs.
Various speakers Wednesday recalled deceptive practices within the housing authority that prevented inspectors from finding dangerous or unsanitary conditions and enabled NYCHA employees to dodge ensuring that problems were fixed.
Nicole Gueron, a lawyer for At-Risk Community Services Inc., urged Pauley to reject the settlement, saying it would leave in place managers and employees who’d lied to authorities before.
“The consent decree is just not enough,” she said. “It is doomed to fail.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Yalen said scrapping the deal would create uncertainty and possibly litigation with no settlement.
“We believe this is the best deal we could have negotiated,” he said.
Even the judge suggested at one point that placing NYCHA in receivership might be a possibility.
Yalen said the federal government believed that was not the right course.
“This is ultimately an institution that has to stand on its own two feet,” he said.
Attorney Debo Adegbile, speaking for NYCHA, said creating a receivership would be like having the federal government “taking over a city and running the whole city.”
“There is no easy path, only difficult paths,” he said.
At the outset of the hearing, Pauley seemed to acknowledge as much, citing “decades-long failures at all levels of government to provide safe, sanitary and decent housing.”
“Problems of this magnitude cannot be fixed overnight,” he said.
This story corrects the first name of U.S. Attorney Robert Yalen.