Bharara mum if Feds will join NYCHA class action mold remediation case

By LOUIS FLORES

The office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has made it his business to join or launch major litigation about gross misconduct by the City of New York Government to effect reform, is silent about his office's intentions regarding a class action mold remediation and abatement case against the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA.

The office of U.S. Attorney Bharara did not answer advance questions submitted by Progress Queens asking, in part, whether Federal prosecutors intended to join the class action mold lawsuit against NYCHA.

Whenever civil litigation has uncovered a pattern of Government misconduct, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has interceded to effect reform. After the City of New York took too long to protect the Constitutional rights of inmates at Rikers Island, particularly for juvenile inmates, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New York's southern district joined an existing civil lawsuit regarding the treatment of Rikers Island inmates as an intervenor to effect a Court-ordered settlement, incorporating recommendations made in a report by a committee of Federal prosecutors appointed by U.S. Attorney Bharara to investigate allegations of violations of inmates’ rights.

A possibility exists that Federal prosecutors may attempt the same strategy, given that the same U.S. Attorney’s Office has already reportedly launched a Federal investigation into the physical conditions standards at NYCHA regarding lead. It would not be too much to loop in mold under any Court-ordered settlement that the Federal prosecutors may seek to enforce.

Controversy has already erupted over NYCHA’s commitment to comply with a Court-ordered settlement in which NYCHA stipulated that it would remediate and eliminate mold in accordance with a Court-approved timetable. After NYCHA failed to comply with the Court-ordered settlement, the Hon. U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley in a Court order appointed a special master to oversee NYCHA’s compliance with the Court-ordered settlement.

As revealed in a report published by Progress Queens, it appears that NYCHA has been inexplicably reporting fewer cases of mold-related maintenance requests made by its tenants as it has also been inexplicably reporting a spike in mildew-related maintenance requests made by tenants.

The idea that mold is toxic has saturated the public consciousness, but the same degree of concern does not particularly exist with respect to mildew, even though both are fungi that can have health effects. It is not known how NYCHA accounts for this shift in reporting. NYCHA has rebuffed requests made by Progress Queens to interview its chief executive, Shola Olatoye.

The Federal investigation of NYCHA comes at a time when public corruption, inept elected officials, or the ideology of a smaller government have wreaked havoc on a functioning Government. Consequently, Federal prosecutors with the office of U.S. Attorney Bharara have served as a check on the workings of Government agencies, often joining or initiating litigation that has sought reform that has included the use of Court-appointed monitors to ensure that the workings of Government complies with the law.

The Federal investigation of NYCHA also comes at a time when Federal prosecutors from the same U.S. Attorney’s Office are reportedly probing whether Mayor Bill de Blasio has rewarded real estate developers with official acts in exchange for having received political or campaign support. A possible overlap of the investigation of NYCHA and of Mayor de Blasio’s campaign finance activities rests where the disposition of NYCHA’s real property may be being used to reward Mayor de Blasio’s political or campaign supporters. According to information received by Progress Queens, there is Federal law enforcement interest in how NYCHA may be disposing of its real estate properties.

Despite the potential for conflicts of interest and the reported Federal law enforcement interest into how NYCHA is disposing of its real property, NYCHA continues to signal its intent to contract with private developers to manage NYCHA properties, as indicated in a report published only last week by The New York Daily News.

In the absence of adequate Federal Government funding for public housing, Mayor de Blasio has touted a turn around plan for NYCHA that has been revealed to have no financial basis in reality, as noted in a separate report published by The New York Daily News. Notwithstanding, that plan calls for the transfer of Government-owned public housing stock that is managed by NYCHA on behalf of the public into the Federal Government’s Section 8 program of rent subsidies. Doing so would allow NYCHA to legally sell stakes in public housing to private real estate developers. The plan also calls for the sale or lease of NYCHA’s playgrounds, gardens, and parking lots to real estate developers for the construction of privately-owned affordable housing.

A sale of Section 8 buildings and a lease of green spaces each involved politically-connected real estate developers. Each transaction did not subject the disposition of City real property to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP process, as required by the City Charter. Furthermore, the process that selected the politically-connected real estate developers has not been made transparent by the de Blasio administration.

It is this incessant focus on entering into contracts with real estate developers over the ownership, development, or management of NYCHA properties that remains Mayor de Blasio’s priority -- over any concern for addressing the physical condition standards of the apartments lived in by NYCHA’s tenants.

As reported by Progress Queens, the de Blasio administration may be so emboldened to further enter into contracts over the ownership, development, or management of NYCHA properties, because a 1980’s Federal investigation of municipal leases centered around Koch administration official Alex Liberman left corruptly-negotiated real estate contracts intact.

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