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NYCHA is de Blasio’s mess: The mayor is the responsible party for the poor state of public housing

2019-08-12

Slumlord. (Barry Williams/for New York Daily News)

NYCHA’s new chair, Gregory Russ, is starting this week. I have some advice for Russ: stay home. I’m a longtime public housing resident and I’ve watched Mayor de Blasio squander six years of time, money and leadership trying to turn around our crumbling, unhealthy and dangerous buildings, like the one I live in.

It’s not even that Russ, who’s now based in Minneapolis, won’t live in New York City during the weekends, or that he’s making $402,628 a year — more than any elected official in America. Like any sensible New Yorker, I’m concerned about both those things.

My bigger worry is that, other than appointing a new person, the mayor hasn’t actually done anything substantial to fix and fund NYCHA since Shola Olatoye left in disgrace. As the then-interim chair recently confided to us in a meeting, part of the reason it was so hard to find someone to replace Olatoye is because “no one wants a job where you could end up in handcuffs.”

I remember when Bill de Blasio first ran for mayor and promised to end the “tale of two cities.” That story has only gotten worse in his six years. Half a million New Yorkers like me, predominantly black and Latino, are still treated like second-class citizens.

Under this mayor, public housing has become so broken down that it now needs billions in repairs. Toxic mold, broken elevators, dangerous lobbies and rat infestations are rampant. The mayor’s own agency lied about poisoning our children with lead.

NYCHA is in such bad shape that for the first time in its history the federal government has had to step in to appoint a federal monitor. When you need Donald Trump and Ben Carson to clean up after you, you know you’ve hit rock bottom.

So last month, I marched to Gracie Mansion with fellow NYCHA tenants and seniors. We went to say to the mayor: You live in rodent-free, lead-free, mold-free, safe public housing, while half a million people live in dehumanizing conditions.

Things are so bad that my neighbor, a nursing student, had to give her 7-year-old child to the child’s grandmother to raise because of the black mold growing on her apartment walls.

Even with all of its problems, nearly 200,000 people are desperate to get into NYCHA. Even more seniors are stuck on wait lists to get units. But the wait times are half a decade or more. Some of those people — my friends — will die waiting for a home.

Then last year, we had a breakthrough, or so we thought. We stood on the steps of City Hall with the mayor as he promised us he would make a historic investment: $500 million for new senior housing on NYCHA land.

Then nothing happened. No contracts were issued. No shovels dug into our open lots.

Then this year we found out that the mayor never meant to keep his promise at all: The $500 million he promised was never spent, and then it vanished from the budget — as if he thought we were too stupid to notice.

It’s obvious the mayor doesn’t care about us, so we’ve taken matters into our own hands. I went door-to-door to organize parishioners and neighbors.

Once it became clear the mayor cared more about becoming president than he cared about fixing the city he promised to work for, I followed him to Iowa and confronted him in front of voters.

The voters I met there all seemed to agree. So too do most New Yorkers, who, according to a recent Siena poll, think more highly of Trump than de Blasio.

The new NYCHA chair, like the old one, will soon realize that nothing will change until the mayor gives the time, money and leadership that public housing residents need to make our homes safe and clean again. In fact, if he stays in Minneapolis, we could use his hefty paycheck for something useful, like actual repairs.

Concepcion, a resident of Breukelen Houses, is a leader of Metro Industrial Areas Foundation.