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Cash Strapped Housing Authority Wastes Millions, Report Says

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Jackson Houses in the Bronx, public housing, NYCHA Jackson Houses in the Bronx. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

The New York City Housing Authority has released a controversial consultant's report that found significant problems with the agency’s management, and how it spends its money.

The Boston Consulting Group issued the report Thursday, after pressure from elected officials to make the report public had grown over the last few days. 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the report would be released as soon as it was received and noted that the report came in Wednesday afternoon.

“We never tried to keep it secret, just while the report is being written, you can write all the stories that you want demanding that we put it out, but until it’s written it would be irresponsible to do so,” the mayor said defending the timing of the release.

The report included criticism of NYCHA’s property management and maintenance, describing it as "sub-optimal." The model the authority uses is causing a current backlog of 330,000 work orders — the equivalent of two years work. The report also said NYCHA’s purchasing system is fragmented and overly bureaucratic, noting the agency spends anywhere from $8 to $28 for a gallon of the same paint.

It also called out NYCHA for having highly rigid and bureaucratic practices that cause inefficiencies ranging from the way the authority uses its computer system to the way its workforce is deployed.

Bloomberg noted that unlike other cities, the Big Apple is not moving away from public housing.

“We have increased dramatically the support for public housing in the city,” he said. The mayor said some of the suggestions in the report can be implemented quickly and easily, but others will take time.

NYCHA Chairman John Rhea said changes are already underway.

“The work that we did with BCG was management's acknowledgement that things were broken, they needed to be fixed and the fixes would not be easy,” Rhea said. He said the housing authority is in the process of hiring a chief procurement officer and is working to make sure supplies are delivered on time so skilled workers are able to make repairs more efficiently. 

Overall, the report identified $70 million in annual savings. NYCHA said it's looking to implement recommendations to achieve that goal by 2016.

Following the report, Bloomberg said he would remove two city housing authority board appointees and replace them with volunteers.

The report was not the only criticism leveled at the public housing authority on Thursday.

At a hearing, council members questioned NYCHA about why it's taken so long to install security cameras at public housing developments plagued by crime.

Rhea said in 2010 he made the decision to hold off on buying cameras in order to develop a comprehensive and standardized security model. He said that approach has saved money and time over the long run. Rhea also blamed part of the problem on a complicated process that requires council members who allocate money for cameras and NYCHA tenants to sign off on cameras before they can be installed. Rhea said cameras in 85 developments would be in place by the end of next year. 

But dozens of buildings in public housing will still be left without surveillance cameras because of a lack of funds. Councilman Charles Barron from Brooklyn complained that some of the most dangerous developments, such as Pink Houses in East New York, weren’t being given priority for cameras at time when “people are dying.”

With the Associated Press

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