Cuomo officially declares state of emergency for NYCHA, vows swift improvement

With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Andrew Cuomo equated NYCHA’s urgency with Hurricane Sandy or a major snowstorm Monday as he officially declared public housing in New York City in a state of emergency.

In front of a crowd at the Johnson Community Center in East Harlem that included NYCHA residents, tenant leaders and elected officials, Cuomo signed an executive order to expedite necessary repairs, upgrades and construction, as well as address lead paint, mold and other harmful environmental and safety hazards.

Over the past few weeks, Cuomo has made visits to NYCHA developments where he saw hazardous conditions such as mold, chipped paint, leaky faucets and a lack of heating. Originally pledging $300 million from the state to fix the problems, he announced recently he is tacking on an additional $250 million, bringing the total to $550 million.

Along with the $200 million the city is pledging and the $100 million from the federal government, NYCHA is getting a total of $850 million for immediate repairs.

“After seeing how these families are forced to live their lives every single day, I made a pledge to the people of New York that I would not sign the budget unless funding was dedicated to address the human tragedy that is NYCHA housing,” Cuomo said. “Today, we are delivering on that promise by providing the funding necessary to get the work done that will allow these families the opportunity to lead healthier lives and once again be proud of the place they call home.”

As part of the executive order, an independent emergency manager must be selected in the next 60 days to oversee the entire emergency plan. Cuomo also took a jab a Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was not at the event, requiring NYCHA and the city to make repairs in a timely manner. The emergency manager must select an independent contractor within 30 days of being installed before the state can release the $550 million for NYCHA.

Repairs to NYCHA units will comply with state Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises measures and will include employment opportunities for NYCHA tenants consistent with Federal Section 3 requirements.

Among those at Monday’s signing were City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and several City Council members, State Assembly members and State Senators. NYCHA President and CEO Shola Olatoye was not at the signing.

“The current conditions at NYCHA buildings are nothing short of deplorable,” James said. “This $250 million investment is exactly the support the families in NYCHA buildings need to secure the heat and hot water that they have gone weeks without and to remove the decades-old mold and lead paint that they have suffered with for far too long.”

NYCHA residents who attended the signing told the AmNews that although they are pleased with the governor putting NYCHA in a state of emergency, they want to see progress instead of a signed promise.

“I think it’s beautiful thing, but let’s see that it goes forward and it doesn’t sit there like some other things have in NYCHA,” said Taft Houses resident Dolores Lowe, who’s been living in public housing since 1962. “I want it to start right now. Other people that live in the development have been dealing with issues in their apartments.”

Michael Wells lives in Manhattanville Houses and said he had the opportunity to speak with the governor one-on-one and told him that NYCHA repairs should be priority for the state.

“You can’t just do the buildings, you have to do the human infrastructure of providing the right housing at the right guidance,” he said. “NYCHA residents have not seen any victories, not because they haven’t wanted them, but because the financial situation has been so messed up that they couldn’t win anyway.”