The town hall was called by Councilwoman Ampry-Samuels to include NYCHA residents and their feedback in the legal process.

NYCHA, Alicka Ampry-Samuels, Emergency Town Hall, HUD
Alicka Ampry-Samuel addresses the full room and commences the emergency town hall meeting this past Monday.

Contributing Reporting by Miranda Levinston

Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuels convened an emergency town hall meeting Monday at the Seth Low Community Center in Brownsville, following recent legal actions filed against the New York City Housing Authority for masking major health and safety violations. 

Last Monday, the US Attorneys Office released a damning report, accusing NYCHA of lead-paint violations, insufficient heating during winter, vermin infestations and chronic elevator outages and other complaints, following a three-year investigation by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency

In an 80-page consent decree enumerating complaints filed on June 11, the US Attorneys Office proposed hiring a federal monitor to oversee NYCHA under a 10-year plan designed to rectify years of neglect and subterfuge. The decree requires the city pay $1 billion over the next four years and $200 million each year after to fund reparations for NYCHAs deteriorating buildings.

When I went down to the housing office and asked when the gas was going to be on, you know what they did? They gave me a hotplate and told me to work it out.

The town hall was called by Ampry-Samuels to insure NYCHA residents and their feedback were included in the legal process. But initial talks at the town hall already revealed disparities between what NYCHA residents saw as priorities and what should be litigated on their behalf.

Try to trickle it down to a regional office when you have an emergency and you call and 24 hours later, no one responds, said Garnette Gibson. Her mothers water main broke on Sunday, flooding her first-floor apartment at Seth Low Houses in Brownsville and leaving a gaping hole in her wall.

NYCHA, Alicka Ampry-Samuels, Emergency Town Hall, HUD
Comedian, actor and NYCHA Seth Low resident Jermel Wilson raises concerns about his hazardous living situation.

Jermel Wilson, a Seth Low tenant for 30-plus years, claimed his apartment has not had gas since May 28. When I went down to the housing office and asked when the gas was going to be on, you know what they did? They gave me a hotplate and told me to work it out.T

Most pressing among the charges against NYCHA is its general unresponsiveness to tenant requests for exterminators, heating and plumbing services, and reliance on quick-fix solutions to meet HUD inspection scores, such as plugging holes with wads of newspapers and shutting off the water to conceal leakages during inspections or when elected officials visit the premises. 

Furthermore, it is not uncommon to find one NYCHA maintenance worker assigned for every 250 units, according to HUD Regional Administrator Lynne Patton. Due to funding shortfalls, the agency often fails to backfill vacancies after workers leave, so that one overstretched worker is expected to oversee 500 units.

The Trump-appointed administrator helms HUDs New York and New Jersey offices, and said one of the first things the monitor will be taksed with is overhauling the agency’s leadership. We cannot fix the problem without first addressing the head of the beast, Patton said.

We have a neurosurgeon running HUD, Patton said. Nobody can pull the wool over his eyes with respect to the health hazards in NYCHA property.

Also sitting on the panel was Dannie Barber, chair of the City-Wide Council of Presidents, the coordinating body for public-housing tenant leaders. A 45-year resident of the Andrew Jackson Houses in the Bronx, Barber said he lost his mother to poisoning from toxic black mold. I will not give up my apartment to move to another apartment because [the memories with my mother] are what keep me going, Barber said. That’s what gives me the initiative to fight.

Patton announced that HUD secretary Ben Carson plans to tour NYCHA properties to determine the long-term effects of the health and safety violations, which he was barred from doing while the investigation was ongoing.

We have a neurosurgeon running HUD, Patton said. Nobody can pull the wool over his eyes with respect to the health hazards in NYCHA property. She also announced that the federal monitor would host monthly meetings with residents on the third Thursday of every month at HUDs regional Manhattan office at 26 Federal Plaza to solicit their feedback.

I pledge to you right now that if that meeting does not happen every month, I will step down as regional administrator, she added.

NYCHA, Alicka Ampry-Samuels, Emergency Town Hall, HUD
NYCHA resident Tonnisha Galloway files a complaint about the lack of basic amenities in her apartment to the NYCHA committee.

At the back of the room, Samuels had assembled three NYCHA representatives to take complaints from tenants directly, to be included in the consent decree. But just over two hours into the town hall meeting, while a tenant was speaking, the representatives started packing up to leave.

Samuels grabbed a microphone to stall them, as most audience members did not have the chance to approach them while the town hall discussion was ongoing. 

Councilmember Mark Gjonaj, who serves alongside Samuels on the public housing committee, urged tenants to get involved with their local resident associations.

Let me begin this the right way by apologizing to each and everyone of you for the government failure,” he said, “for the lies and deception and deceit. Act now so we can act for you.

Kindra Cooper

Kindra Cooper is a freelance journalist and copy editor. She hails from Indonesia, where she wrote features for The Jakarta Post, Indonesia's largest English-language newspaper. Once in New York, she covered...

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