de Blasio, Torres, Stringer mum about legal fees paid by NYCHA regarding Federal investigation

By LOUIS FLORES

Elected officials with authority to oversee the New York City Housing Authority are remaining silent about the cost of the reported Federal investigation into the living condition standards of the public housing apartment buildings administered by the municipal agency.

The press office of Mayor Bill de Balsio (D-New York City) ; the office of Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-Fordham), chair of the New York City Council committee on public housing ; and the press office of Comptroller Scott Stringer (D-New York City) declined requests made by Progress Queens for information related to the costs incurred by NYCHA in respect of the reported Federal Investigation.

Progress Queens is seeking information about the costs that have been paid to outside counsel that NYCHA reportedly retained in response to the reported Federal investigation.

Previous requests made by Progress Queens to NYCHA officials, seeking information about legal costs, have not been answered.

Information obtained by Progress Queens indicates that NYCHA may have also retained consultants. Advance questions submitted by Progress Queens to the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district, which is reportedly investigating NYCHA, about the lawyers and consultants have not been answered.

The lack of information about how much money NYCHA may be diverting from its budget in order to pay attorneys and consultants contrasts with recent revelations that Mayor de Blasio has spent over $5 million in taxpayer money for white collar criminal defense attorneys in connection with the reported Federal investigation into the activities of his various campaign finance committees.

In the recent past, the City of New York has paid millions to consulting firms under the promise of reform that has yet to materialize under the de Blasio administration.

NYCHA has reportedly paid $10 million to the Boston Consulting Group for what The New York Daily News described as a "no-bid contract" to "study" the challenges facing the municipal public housing authority. Former NYCHA Chairman John Rhea is now employed by Boston Consulting Group, according to report published by The New York Daily News. It was during former Chairman Rhea's leadership when NYCHA awarded the consulting contract to Boston Consulting Group.

NYCHA faces a severely underfunded capital improvement budget that is the function of budgetary neglect and political attitudes that are now abdicating on the New Deal promise of housing as a human right. As reported extensively by Progress Queens, NYCHA uses various data systems to manage maintenance requests ; those data systems have been described by Progress Queens as containing incomplete or nonconforming data, and Progress Queens has questioned whether the data systems are merely treated as an information archive as opposed to being leveraged to improve the living condition standards for NYCHA's tenants.

In January, the de Blasio administration agreed to increase the budget for consulting services being reportedly provided by the McKinsey & Company to approximately $9 million for a plan to reform Rikers Island.

McKinsey & Company received a sharp increase in payments under the modified Rikers Island consulting contract despite the fact that the City of New York agreed to a Consent Judgment negotiated by the U.S. Attorney's Office that basically outlined the framework for reforms that were needed to be carried out to bring Rikers Island into compliance with Federal laws.

The administration of Mayor de Blasio has proposed a plan to lease to real estate developers the parking lots, playgrounds, and other green spaces owned by NYCHA. Under this proposal, referred to as the infill plan, NYCHA would receive nominal rent payments that would eventually trickle down to the capital improvement budget, so that NYCHA can address serious issues of habitability, such as the presence of mold, mildew, lead, and asbestos in public housing apartment buildings. The mayor's plan for NYCHA also includes converting public housing owned by NYCHA into Section 8 housing, the latter which allows the mayor to sell stakes in public housing apartment buildings to real estate investors in an effort to advance his neoliberal economic agenda for strategic public assets.

NYCHA tenants have protested the mayor's infill plan as inadequate and as a possible source of gentrification.

Other advocates for public housing reform have previously called on NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye to resign, but it was revealed that those advocates were backing a competing plan for the neoliberal privatisation of public housing stock.

Because the de Blasio administration has not fully addressed the poor living conditions of NYCHA's tenants, several political operatives are attempting to exploit issues facing public housing tenants as the source of organizing against Mayor de Blasio in the run up to the 2017 municipal election cycle, according to information received by Progress Queens.