WSJ: Federal Judge Scotches Deal Over Conditions in City’s Public Housing

By Corinne Ramey Nov. 14, 2018

A federal judge Wednesday rejected a settlement between New York City’s public-housing agency and Manhattan federal prosecutors, saying the agreement didn’t do enough to address residents’ concerns and the job description of a proposed monitor was too vague.

The ruling comes in response to an agreement, announced in June, that settled prosecutors’ multiyear probe into health and safety conditions at the New York City Housing Authority. Under the settlement, a monitor would oversee sweeping changes at NYCHA, the nation’s largest public-housing agency.

In his 52-page written ruling, U.S. District Judge William Pauley III said overseeing such a settlement, known as a consent decree, wasn’t the proper role of the court.

“Because the Proposed Consent Decree is not fair and reasonable, and because its entry would disserve the public interest, the Government’s motion for approval is denied,” he wrote.

The agreement was intended to address mold, broken elevators, lack of heat, lead paint and what prosecutors described as the authority’s systemic management failures, among other issues. On Wednesday, the judge called NYCHA’s litany of problems “somewhat reminiscent of the biblical plagues of Egypt.”

A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said the decision “will not affect the record investment Mayor de Blasio has dedicated to reversing decades of divestment and mismanagement of public housing.” Under the agreement, the judge wrote, the city had agreed to provide the authority with almost $3 billion in previously budgeted funding, an additional $1 billion over four years, and $200 million annually in subsequent years.

A NYCHA spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement that his office was reviewing the decision. “The well-being of the over 400,000 NYCHA residents continues to be our paramount concern,” he added.

Among the possible next steps for the parties are to appeal the ruling, renegotiate the settlement or find other ways to address authority buildings’ disrepair.

It wasn’t immediately clear what Judge Pauley’s rejection of the settlement meant for NYCHA residents, although he suggested it could delay needed funds.

“He’s done a good job at highlighting the problems, but we already knew what those problems were,” said Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at the Legal Aid Society. “Without money, how are we going to make sure the heat stays on this winter?”

The judge told the parties to file a report by Dec. 14 explaining how they wished to proceed. In his ruling, he outlined several possibilities.

“Desperate times call for desperate—and sometimes politically unpopular—measures, whether that be exploring public-private housing partnerships, infill development, or the sale of air rights,” Judge Pauley wrote. Other options he mentioned include replacing NYCHA’s management or putting the agency into receivership, an arrangement in which a local housing authority is under federal or judicial control.