Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday that he is prepared to declare a state of emergency at the New York City Housing Authority, which has come under fire for failing to provide heat and hot water to many residents this winter.
Under a state of emergency, Cuomo could replace the management of NYCHA, the nation’s largest public housing agency, with an operating budget of around $3 billion and more than 400,000 tenants living in 326 developments.
At his appearance on Monday, at the Jackson Houses in the Melrose neighborhood, the governor said he was acting in the interests of those tenants.
“I have been asked by the residents to declare an emergency, and I have no problem declaring this an emergency, because it is a health and safety emergency,” Cuomo said at a news conference after meeting with tenants.
After the visit he described the conditions as “disgusting,” and his office announced that he had directed the state Health Department to investigate health and safety violations at NYCHA properties.
Cuomo, a Democrat who served as the federal housing secretary under President Bill Clinton, was invited to tour the housing complex by a group of tenants who filed a lawsuit last month against NYCHA for failing to keep tenants safe from lead and involve them in policymaking.
His foray into the troubles facing NYCHA comes as the agency is still reeling from an investigation last year that found it had filed false paperwork on lead inspections. The report found that Olatoye knew of the falsifications, a disclosure that prompted calls for her to resign and that intensified tenant criticism of her agency. But de Blasio, a Democrat, has defended her.
Cuomo blamed NYCHA’s delayed repairs of its aging buildings on years of mismanagement and a “maze of bureaucracy,” which he said could be circumvented with the appointment of an independent entity through an emergency declaration.
An emergency declaration can be far-ranging and empowers the state to take actions not otherwise permitted.
In a letter sent on Monday to the city, Alphonso David, Cuomo’s counsel, said the declaration “could include a replacement of existing management, the appointment of an independent monitor, the identification and selection of contractors to be responsible for repairs, and/or the appointment of a public health monitor to focus on lead testing.”
Cuomo said he would meet with City Council members in Albany on Tuesday and called on the mayor to offer input on a potential emergency declaration.
“I want the decision in two weeks. Otherwise, I will make the decision myself by the time we do the budget,” said Cuomo, referring to the April 1 deadline to adopt a new state spending plan.
With de Blasio in Washington, two of his top aides met with reporters at City Hall to counter some of Cuomo’s assertions and to argue that an emergency declaration was unwarranted.
The emergency declaration is not a “magic cure-all,” said Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, who faulted Cuomo for not releasing state funds that had already been appropriated to the housing authority.
Federal subsidies to NYCHA have dwindled since the 2000s, leaving the authority, which is administered locally, with billions of dollars in unfunded capital needs and a grim financial reality. The state is not obligated to fund NYCHA, but the authority plays a vital role in providing housing for the city’s poor, and since taking office, Cuomo has pledged more than $300 million.
But the city had not received $200 million of that money, Glen said.
Cuomo suggested on Monday that the money would be released if an independent monitor were appointed at NYCHA.
“Once an independent mechanism is chosen and we know the money will be spent in a timely way — not three to four years — the state will make $200 million available immediately,” Cuomo said.
Seemingly, the only agreement on Monday was support for a bill that would expedite the procurement process for public projects in New York City and reduce the cost of repairs at NYCHA facilities. Both the governor and the mayor supported the bill, which passed in the state Assembly on Monday night, several hours after the sparring between city and state officials had subsided.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.