02/05/2014 04:02 pm ET | Updated Apr 07, 2014

A New Day for NYCHA

Today a husband, father and veteran of Operation Desert Storm is awakening to another day of a new, very personal war -- against New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Our client, like countless other families, lives with his children in a NYCHA apartment teeming with toxic black mold and cockroaches that caused his daughter to develop asthma. When NYCHA would not fix the problems, he withheld rent. That got NYCHA's attention. The agency sued him. NYCHA eventually made some repairs, but the work was shoddy and the mold returned. His battle continues, but even if he wins and the repairs are made properly, his daughter's asthma won't go away.

In another part of our great city, an elderly woman continues to live without hot water. Every day, she relies on the kindness of her neighbors who allow her to shower in their home. She has endured this indignity for months.

And tonight a young family of four will continue their battle -- against the infestation of mice, roaches and mold that consumes their unheated NYCHA apartment as asthma becomes an inevitable reality.

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers live in these same conditions. A 2011 Census Bureau report revealed public housing units have four times as many roach infestations and three times as many leaks as private apartments. It's no wonder the asthma rate in public housing is up to three times higher than in private rental buildings.

But, after years of misery for NYCHA residents, there is hope. As a result of a recent settlement, NYCHA must address systemic failures such as protracted repair response time and inadequate repairs resulting in a proliferation of toxic mold. NYCHA is also required to address the root cause of the mold problem: water.

Another bright spot for NYCHA residents is the election of Mayor Bill de Blasio. A major tenet of de Blasio's campaign was the conviction that all New Yorkers deserve safe, affordable homes. While NYCHA does face some serious and expensive problems, there are several quick fixes Mayor de Blasio can make to pave the way for better living conditions for residents.

  1. As Public Advocate, de Blasio created the NYCHA Watchlist, a website that tracked repairs in public housing to encourage transparency of the repair system. This is exactly the kind of list that belongs on NYCHA's website today.
  2. NYCHA is the only landlord in the city that does not have its building violation reports available online. This lack of transparency is unacceptable. NYCHA should be required to have this list made public like any other landlord in New York City.
  3. NYCHA should develop a triage system whereby repairs are assessed and a timeline is provided based on the severity and risks of the reported problem.
  4. De Blasio should address NYCHA's lack of accountability: No entity oversees NYCHA, a landlord with more than 600,000 tenants. There's no recourse when a reported problem goes unaddressed. That's not the case for non-NYCHA residents. The city's Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) oversees landlords throughout the city. HPD enforces the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law and the New York City Housing Maintenance Code both of which outline various tenant rights and landlord responsibilities. HPD should oversee NYCHA.
For too long, NYCHA tenants have lived in homes that make them sick. Mayor de Blasio and the team he picks to lead NYCHA have a long way to go to ensure all New Yorkers are living in safe, healthy homes. Transparency and accountability are two easy, quick ways to address the most micro, and most important, of NYCHA's problems: the living conditions of tenants.