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Public Housing Monitor Hires High-Profile Team, But Keeps Price Private

Housing Secretary Ben Carson and Mayor Bill de Blasio sign a deal to have a new federal monitor oversee NYCHA, Jan. 31, 2019.
Housing Secretary Ben Carson and Mayor Bill de Blasio sign a deal to have a new federal monitor oversee NYCHA, Jan. 31, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The New York City Housing Authority’s new federal monitor is assembling a team of high-profile lawyers and consultants – but officials won’t say how much the squad is costing taxpayers.

The hiring spree stems from an unprecedented agreement the de Blasio administration made in January with federal prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) handing much oversight of the troubled public housing agency to monitor Bart Schwartz.

An announcement is expected Wednesday revealing Schwartz and the city’s choice for a major management consultant to help overhaul cash-strapped NYCHA.

City Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Brooklyn) told THE CITY Tuesday she recently asked the monitor about the cost of his salary, his staff and consultants. “He did not give me an exact dollar figure,” she said. “But they said they would be transparent after the report he plans to release” in June.

NYCHA monitor Bart Schwartz
NYCHA monitor Bart Schwartz Photo: Business Wire

Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a City Hall spokesperson, couldn’t say how much Schwartz and his team of lawyers and consultants will be paid. “We’re waiting on them to provide us with additional information so we can proceed with the contracting process,” she wrote in response to THE CITY’s inquiry. “We expect to receive this in the coming days.”

A spokesman for Schwartz declined to comment.

Under the agreement with the feds, which followed the prosecutors’ findings that NYCHA has for years failed to provide adequate housing for its 400,000 tenants, the city is on the hook for all costs associated with the monitor. The deal does not cap the fees, except to say they must be “reasonable.”

Past Fees Hit $750 an Hour

Schwartz, a former prosecutor under Rudy Giuliani who traditionally charges private-sector clients $750 an hour, has been on the job and working out of NYCHA headquarters in lower Manhattan since March 1.

In 2017, when Schwartz was acting as a receiver over a brokerage firm charged with fraud, the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) criticized his spending.

By the time he stepped down at the SEC’s request, his firm, Guidepost Solutions, had billed the receivership $1,311,360 – including $142,080 for Schwartz personally. Schwartz said he’d waived his normal $750 an hour fee and billed at $600 an hour.

Last week, Guidepost announced the hiring of former prosecutor Dan Brownell, who recently retired as commissioner of the Business Integrity Commission, the agency that oversees the waste carting industry in the city. Brownell left amidst a wave of criticism of BIC’s failure to aggressively monitor companies on worker safety and wage theft.

Another member of what Schwartz’s firm described as the “monitoring team working to ensure” NYCHA meets the terms of the January agreement is Elan Parra, a former senior advisor in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office of Criminal Justice and ex-head of the mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, the unit that cracks down on illegal hotels.

Schwartz also enlisted another former prosecutor, Dennis Walsh, who served for years as corruption monitor of the District Council of Carpenters.

Interim NYCHA chair, Kathryn Garcia, speaks with reporters at City Hall, Feb. 6, 2019.
Interim NYCHA chair, Kathryn Garcia, speaks with reporters at City Hall, Feb. 6, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The agreement also requires the monitor and the city to pick a third-party consultant by Wednesday who will be tasked with examining NYCHA’s management structure – including the jobs of the chair, the general manager and the board members. Lapeyrolerie said she expects City Hall “will have more on that” Wednesday.

The current chair, Kathryn Garcia, holds the job on an interim basis. HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman and Mayor de Blasio are expected to name a permanent chair in the coming days.

Sources say the top candidate is Saul Ramirez Jr., a former mayor of Laredo, Texas, who has past ties to de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo

The NYCHA agreement requires the monitor to provide a public record on his observations on a quarterly basis. The first such report is due June 1.

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