U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman announced a settlement with NYCHA that only asked the City of New York to set aside pennies on the dollar toward what NYCHA needs to fully fund its capital improvement budget. Official Photograph/U.S. Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman turns back on NYCHA tenants after woefully inadequate repair fund settlement

As NYCHA’s make-shift super, U.S. Attorney Berman may have only managed to clean sweep New York’s public housing authority for a photo-op.

By Progress New York Staff

When U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman announced a settlement of the Federal investigation into the physical conditions of the public housing developments owned and operated by the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, Federal authorities boasted the creation of a repair fund that would disburse $4 billion over five years to make necessary capital improvements to NYCHA’s portfolio of public housing developments. The intent of the repair fund was to remove lead paint, remediate toxic mold, and make critical repairs to heating systems and elevators, according to settlement documents.

But the $4 billion, five-year repair fund, intended to bring to an end the dilapidated conditions into which NYCHA fell in the wake of the neoliberalism that has overtaken public spending on housing, has proven to be woefully inadequate when compared to the size of NYCHA’s unfunded budget deficit, which stands at an estimated $31,8 billion. As part of the settlement, the City of New York is responsible for contributing about $2,2 billion over ten years.

Federal repair fund only demands the City of New York pay $2,2 billion — even though the unfunded capital improvement budget deficit stands at $31,8 billion.

Sources : NYCHA ; The New York Times ; and The Gotham Gazette

Meanwhile, tenants of public housing have begun to beseech U.S. Attorney Berman’s office with personal appeals for help, seeking assistance with “everything from broken toilets to removing deadly asbestos,” according to a report published by the New York Post. The spokespeople supporting the office of U.S. Attorney Berman refused to answer several questions for this report, including whether there was any possibility that the U.S. Attorney would ask the City to raise its commitment in order to fund the entirety of the capital improvement budget deficit.

If the repair fund remains as-is, there is no way to know whether U.S. District Judge William Pauley III, who now oversees both the NYCHA settlement and a separate Federal class action, mass tort litigation involving NYCHA, will ask the City of New York to raise its contribution to the proposed repair fund. A hearing is set for Sept. 26, according to the New York Post report. If the City of New York is not forced to raise its contribution to the repair fund, it may look like the years of work done by Federal prosecutors will not provide any meaningful relief to public housing tenants, who had turned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for hope when news of the investigation first broke.

For years, some neoliberal politicians in New York have been citing the large, unfunded capital improvement budget at NYCHA as an excuse to embrace a take-over of public housing by private sector developers. Notably, Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-Fordham) has increasingly welcomed private sector developers to begin to own and manage NYCHA buildings, according to a report published by POLITICO New York. If the private sector is allowed to take control over NYCHA, it would represent a violation of the 1934 public pact that informed the creation of NYCHA. As a result, the work of U.S. Attorney Berman’s office may just amount to a sweeping of a stoop to a flop house that just keeps getting ignored, and U.S. Attorney Berman may well be remembered as a modern-day Monsieur Thénardier, a fictional innkeeper, who, despite his flaws, at least stopped short of cheating his tenants of the promise of public housing.

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