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HUD knew about New York City’s squalid public housing state before alleged cover-up, report says

ProPublica's report places a focus on HUD's role in NYCHA's decrepit state.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26: The Alfred E. Smith Houses, a public housing development built and maintained by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), stand in in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, April 26, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26: The Alfred E. Smith Houses, a public housing development built and maintained by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), stand in in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, April 26, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

U.S. Housing and Urban Development officials were aware of the squalid state New York City public housing residents were living in months before federal prosecutors claimed the city’s housing authority tried to cover up conditions, ProPublica and The Southern Illinoisan found in a new report.

Chronic mismanagement by New York City’s Public Housing Authority have left hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers’ apartments — already impacted by toxic lead paint — to become overrun by mold and rodents. Conditions were so bad, a federal judge last week suggested HUD take over NYCHA’s operations. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has since outlined a plan that would (in part) privatize many of the public housing units through a HUD program. That program has its drawbacks: it could push out tenants and put those units at risk of becoming unaffordable long-term, due to a lack of oversight.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman claimed for months that NYCHA has tried to cover up the conditions, using “every trick in the book to conceal violations from federal inspectors,” ProPublica reported. But HUD inspection records from 2013 to 2017, obtained by The Southern Illinoisan, found federal officials were aware of severe mold, pest infestations, missing appliances, inoperable windows and doors, electrical issues, water leaks, and more in a dozen New York public housing properties, ProPublica reported.

The report puts a focus on HUD’s role in NYCHA’s failures. In a previous report, the Southern Illinoisan and ProPublica found HUD’s outdated inspection system is flawed and ineffective, and allows unsafe properties to routinely pass inspections.

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During a December 2016 inspection of 27 units at New York’s Andrew Jackson property, HUD found seven units had severe mold, a dozen units with peeling paint, and two units with roaches. However, due to HUD’s scoring system, those violations at a handful of units carried little weight in the federal agency’s review of more than 1,700 units it reviewed at about a dozen buildings. The property ended up passing HUD’s inspection, scoring 70 out of 100 points.