By LOUIS FLORES
New York City Council public housing committee chair Ritchie Torres (D-The Bronx) has demanded information about how the city's housing authority plans to spend a $3 billion grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, according to a report in The New York Daily News.
Councilmember Torres was a co-author of a letter sent to the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, demanding information about spending plan for the FEMA grant. The information is due by Friday.
Councilmember Torres' chief of staff was contacted Tuesday by Progress Queens to request whether Councilmember Torres would demand that NYCHA cease further sales of Section 8 buildings and playgrounds to real estate developers, given the FEMA windfall. No response was received from Councilmember Torres' chief of staff.
NYCHA is receiving the large FEMA grant as compensation for property damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
In an editorial, Progress Queens noted that Councilmember Torres owes his election to real estate interests, which had financed an attack campaign against Councilmember Torres' primary challenger. It's unknown whether Councilmember Torres owes any loyalties to the real estate industry, which is benefitting from buying into NYCHA's distressed properties.
NYCHA has been using the high costs of maintaining its portfolio of dilapidated public housing developments as a rationale for selling city real property to real estate developers.
In a lengthy report, however, Progress Queens revealed that several buildings that were recently sold by NYCHA had received substantial improvements in the time leading up to their sale, challenging the notion that the buildings were severely decrepit. The lengthy report also raised questions about how city housing officials were able to sidestep regulations in the City Charter that mandates any disposition of city property to be subjected to the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or the ULURP process, a sometimes messy procedure that would have stirred up activist interest and would have pressed NYCHA to be much more transparent about the particulars of the sale. Instead, NYCHA negotiated the sale without any prior public input and without any prior oversight by the City Council.
This is not the first time that Councilmember Torres has flirted with possible mixed motivations when dealing with powerful special interests. In February, Councilmember Torres joined a delegation of other municipal lawmakers on a vacation paid for by lobbyists. Councilmember Torres told Progress Queens that the delegation had received a waiver of conflicts of interests rules that generally prohibit city officials from receiving gifts from lobbyists. However, when such documentation was requested by Progress Queens, Councilmember Torres' office did not provide the documentation.