accountability

Mold Grows on Efforts to Clean Up Public Housing Apartments

Mold was reported in thousands of public housing apartments across the city.
Mold was reported in thousands of public housing apartments across the city. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The city is still struggling to scrub toxic mold from public housing — with thousands of clean-up requests going unresolved for months on end, an independent expert hired by the Housing Authority found.

Over the summer, mold work orders piled up, with over 100,000 clean-up requests for more than 58,000 apartments across the city between May 1 and July 31, a report filed in court Wednesday by consulting firm Stout Risius Ross revealed.

Stout found serious delays all over, with nearly 30,000 open work orders as of July 31 — including 11,000 open for more than 200 days. One remained open for more than a year and a half: 565 days.

“There are a significant number of work orders that have remained open for extremely long periods,” Stout analyst Neil Steinkamp noted in a Sept. 4 letter summarizing the firm’s findings.

‘No Real Improvement’

Stout was brought in as part of an ongoing federal lawsuit filed against the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) in December 2013 by Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, a housing advocacy group.

The suit alleged NYCHA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to clean up mold in apartments where tenants have respiratory ailments.

Citing Stout’s findings, Metro IAF Wednesday called for the immediate appointment of a tenant ombudsperson who would have the power to bring in outside companies to get the job done.

“Unfortunately, the vast majority of tenants have seen no real improvement,” said the Rev. Getulio Cruz, a Metro IAF leader.

The latest mold problem comes as a federal monitor has begun overseeing the authority as part of a January settlement with federal prosecutors seeking to force NYCHA to clean up its act on lead paint and other woes plaguing some 400,000 residents.

Examples of mold at public housing complexes in the city.
Examples of mold at public housing complexes in the city. Photo: Via Federal Lawsuit

Long before the federal settlement, NYCHA promised to eradicate mold as part of a 2013 consent decree with Metro IAF. In the years since, NYCHA officials’ claims of success on mold clean-up efforts have repeatedly come under question.

Frustration Mounts

Councilmember Ritchie Torres, D-Bronx, a frequent critic of NYCHA who grew up in public housing, sent a letter Wednesday to the authority’s new chairman, Gregory Russ, blasting the agency for yet another failure to live up to its promises.

Torres noted that last year, NYCHA had agreed by May to install roof fans at dozens of developments that would siphon off moisture and help reduce mold build-up. As of today, NYCHA has set aside $50 million for roof fans but has yet to assign a single contract.

“This work should have concluded long ago,” Torres wrote, adding: “No further delay can be justified.”

Case Closed?

The Stout report also took issue with thousands of work orders NYCHA staff have dismissed as “unfounded.” Over a one-year period ending in July, nearly half of all work orders seeking mold clean-up — 47% — were put in this category and no clean-up was performed, Stout found.

But Stout discovered inspections were often “conducted in an unusually short amount of time (less than 5 minutes), raising concerns about the integrity of the inspection process.”

At the Jefferson Houses in East Harlem, for instance, Stout noted that nearly 200 of the 349 work orders there were declared “unfounded.” At the Drew Hamilton Houses several blocks north, 185 of 238 work orders were labeled “unfounded.”

In one bathroom at Jefferson, Stout found NYCHA workers closed the mold complaint as “unfounded” in August 2018 and then again in December. But after a third complaint was filed on Jan. 31, the job was reopened.

Stout’s report noted that a large number of work orders closed within five minutes and dubbed “unfounded” were handled by a very small number of NYCHA employees — five.

In an emailed statement, Housing Authority spokesperson Barbara Brancaccio said: “NYCHA has been working collaboratively with the court appointed data analyst and mold analyst as well as with plaintiffs and the Special Master appointed by the Court to insure its continued improved response to mold complaints.”

Bernard Smith, a Metro IAF member and tenant at Morris Houses in the Bronx, said the Stout report “confirms what every tenant knows: NYCHA takes too long to deal with mold repairs and ignores them when they do.”

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