Audit Shows Many Disturbing Questions About New York City Housing Authority

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[Op-Ed: New York]

The New York City Housing Authority has a lot of explaining to do. Serious questions about its finances, management, and ability to deliver services are growing by the day. New Yorkers deserve answers –now.

More than 400,000 New Yorkers live in public housing. The system is an asset to the City and integral to its economic health. Yet NYCHA’s financials are a recipe for disaster, and its mismanagement risks residents’ safety. As the City’s chief financial officer, I have called on NYCHA to fix its operations and do better overall.

Some questions that demand answers:
    •    Why has NYCHA failed to install surveillance cameras and other security systems, even when it has $42 million funds earmarked for such purposes? That’s dangerous for NYCHA’s residents.

    •    Why does NYCHA want to borrow $500 million, when it has more than $777 million in unspent funds that date back several years? More debt could damage its financial stability.

    •    Why did NYCHA hire the Boston Consulting Group in a reported $10 million no-bid contract – and did NYCHA’s chairman fail to disclose his former employment with the firm?

    •    When NYCHA pays the NYPD $70 million dollars a year, is it getting its money’s worth? Its agreement with the NYPD is outdated and hasn’t necessarily proved to reduce crime. It has also resulted in an intrusive trespassing program and objectionable instances of stop-and-frisk.

    •    Why are so few NYCHA residents hired as uniformed officers? NYCHA needs many more officers rooted in its own communities, to improve police-community relations, increase the security of NYCHA residents, and lower the incidence of stops-and-frisks.

    •    As the Section 8 program faces cuts, is NYCHA creating any safety net for its Section 8 voucher holders?  Is it pushing aggressively for more Section 8 funding?

    •    Why doesn’t NYCHA’s new draft annual plan have more about job creation and training for residents – as required by federal law?  To be clear: We’re looking for meaningful career employment, not just temporary jobs.

    •    When NYCHA has spent a staggering amount automating many of its operations, shouldn’t it disclose how residents have benefitted from these costs?

    •    When City budgets are so tight, why is NYCHA leaving federal money on the table? Specifically: 21,000 aging housing units have qualified for federal operating and capital-fund subsidies – but only about two-thirds will receive them.
NYCHA’s lack of disclosure is troubling, and my office is also working to provide answers to some of these questions. We’ve started an audit of federally mandated job-training efforts. And, another of our audits found delays and other inefficiencies in NYCHA’s infrastructure-improvement program, called CM Build.
Still more answers are needed. At stake are NYCHA’s fiscal integrity – and the confidence of a City.

John C. Liu is the New York City Comptroller.

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