NYCHA board sitting on nearly $1B in fed cash, residents have strong ideas on how to spend unused federal money

NYCHA board sitting on nearly $1B in fed cash

The New York City Housing Authority and its board members have failed to spend nearly $1 billion that it has been hoarding since 2009 to make life more livable for the 400,000 residents of its 334 developments, the Daily News has learned.

The New York City Housing Authority and its board members have failed to spend nearly $1 billion that it has been hoarding since 2009 to make life more livable for the 400,000 residents of its 334 developments, the Daily News has learned.

They earn close to $200,000 a year, ride in city-owned cars, live in tony Manhattan apartments — and are sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars intended to benefit low income New York families.

The New York City Housing Authority and its board members have failed to spend nearly $1 billion that it has been hoarding since 2009 to make life more livable for the 400,000 residents of its 334 developments, the Daily News has learned.

The money from the federal government is supposed to repair leaky roofs, broken elevators, moldy walls and busted playground equipment in the authority’s crumbling properties.


But nearly half of the unspent dollars — $485 million — has been sitting untouched in NYCHA’s accounts for at least two years.

Some of it — $233 million — dates back to 2009 as the agency continues to spend its money at a glacial pace.

Meanwhile, NYCHA’s highly paid board members are unable or unwilling to explain how they’ve left so much money to basically collect dust.

And Mayor Bloomberg, who appointed all four members of the board, has refused repeated requests for comment over several days.

“They need to be investigated,” snapped Sheri

Brown, a longtime resident of the Polo Grounds Houses in northern Manhattan.

“Why don’t they live in public housing?” asked Brown, whose apartment complaints include problems with mold, the ceilings and a collapsed bathroom wall.

“Tell them they need to be spending it immediately — if not sooner.”

The story of the staggering cash cache follows a pair of News exposés: First, NYCHA sat on $42 million that was meant for security cameras in high-crime city developments.

And second, it failed to spend $17 million to renovate a Brooklyn housing project — leaving a vacant ghost town for more than a decade.

Residents are furious.

“They give us an outrageous expected time for complaints if we file them,” said Tarcey Romero, 37, of the Soundview Houses in the Bronx.

She says she has waited two years to get a simple gasket replaced on her 17-year-old refrigerator.

“We have rats, a lot of rats and mice,” Romero said. “The doors don’t lock, the intercoms don’t work. If you want to talk safety issues, that’s it.”

At a public hearing last week, city Controller John Liu demanded to know why the agency is now moving to borrow an additional $500 million while NYCHA won’t spend what it already has.

“Why NYCHA is sitting on a pile of money while residents suffer and buildings deteriorate is incomprehensible,” Liu told The News. Liu’s predecessor, William Thompson, slammed the agency on the same issue in 2006.

Meanwhile, highly paid members of the board blamed the unwieldy bureaucracies — or refused to answer questions at all.

NYCHA Chairman John Rhea, whose perks include a city car and driver, bolted past a News reporter Tuesday without answering questions about the unspent funds. His salary: $197,364.

Board member Emily Youssouf, who lives in an upscale Battery Park City condo, was unreachable for comment on the snafu. Her salary: $187,147.

Board member Margarita Lopez, a former city councilwoman who makes the same salary as Youssouf, defended the agency’s tortoiselike approach to spreading the wealth.

“There are unforeseen factors that have to be put in the equation,” she said outside her well-appointed East Village apartment. “NYCHA got the money from the federal government.

“The federal government has different regulations and different demands.”

The agency’s board also includes a fourth member: NYCHA resident Victor Gonzalez, who receives $250 a month for his service.

Red tape alone, as cited by Lopez, can’t explain away the years of spending slowdowns.

From 2009 through this year, NYCHA received $1.2 billion for modernization of its aging developments from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

As of last week, $995 million — about four out of every five dollars — remains unspent.

This spending delay occurs in part because it takes NYCHA a long time to figure out what to do with the money.

A former NYCHA insider told The News the agency is hobbled by the sheer size of its mission — to oversee a population that’s bigger than Boston’s.

The residents live in housing stock that’s rapidly falling apart — and the agency tries to please everyone.

“Everything at NYCHA takes forever,” the insider said. “It’s just a tough place to get things done

Board member
Emily Youssouf
Appointed by Bloomberg to a five-year term in 2011 – makes $187,147, lives in a penthouse condo in Battery Park City and owns a second home in the Hamptons with in-ground pool and floor-to-ceiling windows.
She has a finance background at JP Morgan Securities, but also housing experience running the city’s Housing Development Corp., where she built 37,000 units of affordable housing.

NYCHA Chairman
John Rhea
Harvard MBA who worked for years at the failed brokerage, Lehman Brothers, lives in a luxury condo in Harlem and is ferried to and from work by a NYCHA driver in a shiny black SUV.
He makes $197,364 a year, and though he had no experience in housing when Mayor Bloomberg gave him the job in 2009, he does have experience as a landlord, owning commercial property in Detroit.

Board member
Victor Gonzalez
The only board member who actually lives in NYCHA housing, and his position is considered part-time, paying a paltry $250 a month. Appointed by Bloomberg in 2011, the longtime tenant advocate has resided in public housing for 50 years.

Board member Margarita Lopez is a former city council member from the Lower East Side who abandoned the Democratic party to endorse Republican Bloomberg a year before he appointed her to the board in 2006. She makes $187,147 and lives in a renovated apartment building in the East Village.

N.Y.C. Housing Authority residents have strong ideas on how to spend unused federal money

Elevators, mold, other repairs are on their to-do list

Virginia Smith points to water damage in her Kingsborough Houses kitchen. She said she was recently given an appointment for repairs – next year.

If city housing officials are unsure how to spend millions in federal funds, the angry residents of their buildings are full of suggestions.

Fix the elevators. Install security cameras. Exterminate the rats. Paint the hallways. Speed up repairs. Clean up the mold.

“All they do is put a Band-Aid on things,” griped James Hicks, 49, of the Kingsborough Houses in Ocean Hill, Brooklyn.

Hicks, a 20-year resident, pointed at the paint bubbles rising from the layer of brown crud in the hallway of his first-floor apartment.

“They plastered it like 20 times, and it keeps coming back,” said Hicks. “It’s not fair. You shouldn’t have to live like this.”

The story was the same at housing projects citywide as the Daily News revealed that well-paid members of the New York City Housing Authority were sitting on nearly $1 billion of repair funds.

“We think they’re withholding the money so things will get so horrible we’ll leave — or they can push us out,” said an outraged Sherid Thompson, 26, who lives in the Polo Grounds Houses in northern Manhattan.

“It’s deplorable,” said the mother of a 6-year-old boy. “They don’t know our living conditions.”

Residents not only live in squalor. They live in fear, navigating walkways where lights have been busted for years and where security cameras are a pipe dream.

“I’m afraid to walk around at night,” said Kingsborough resident Cheryl Pierce, 57.

For Maribel Garcia, those conditions include a leaky bathroom ceiling left untouched for a year.

“They really should put that money to use,” said the resident of the Soundview Houses in the Bronx. “It really makes me upset.”

Virginia Smith’s first-floor apartment at the Kingsborough Houses includes a peeling, decaying kitchen wall that she first complained about in 2009.

The senior citizen said she was recently notified of an appointment for repairs — in 2013.

“You always get an excuse,” she said.

Neighbor Angel Taylor, 36, offered a wry laugh about the unspent money and the unrepaired apartments.

“You can walk into the buildings and see nothing has been fixed,” said Taylor. “If you have centipedes crawling out of your ceiling, something is wrong.”

Residents of city housing were particularly stunned to learn that the board chairman earned nearly $200,000 a year and two of its members made $187,147 apiece.

“For what, to sit in their offices and not respond to our needs?” asked Polo Grounds resident Thompson. “It takes six months to a year to get repairs.”

Thompson’s neighbors complained of broken elevators where residents routinely get stuck. Thomas Hills, 62, said NYCHA ignores the complaints of a tenant group in the project.

“They’re always crying broke,” said Hills, who moved into the complex 30 years ago. “Every week, at least one elevator is out.

“They don’t earn their paychecks. They have to clean house. We don’t know where this money comes from, or where it goes.”

Michael Brown, who lives in the Martin Luther King project in Harlem, said the lack of response was accepted as the norm by residents.

“You call the Housing Authority, and they never show,” said Brown. “You’ve got to call in the Fire Department to get anything done.”

Brown wasn’t surprised to hear about the whopping salaries — NYCHA Chairman John Rhea, at $197,364 a year, earns almost as much as Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

“What can you say?” Brown asked rhetorically. “The people who make the most money do the least work. Hello?”

Valerie Jenkins, 64, hoped someone might steer some of that money to her apartment at the Polo Grounds Houses.

“All we do is pay our rent and wait for improvements,” said the retired city worker. “Sometimes they send a contractor from who knows where, and they botch the job. I have a front door that doesn’t close.”

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