This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Rev. Gusweller, Rector of the Episcopalian Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy and an activist against slum conditions, answers questions about the fight against slum conditions and bribes.
Jay Nelson Tuck moderates.
Panelists: Stan Siegel, Peter Franklin, Jim Farrell, and Frank Zeller.
Tenants say bribing inspectors is very common. City officials are doing all they can, but it's a very difficult problem. People would rather pay fines than pay to fix their buildings. Unrealistic and complex building codes. Discouraging people from coming in to the city is not the solution. Chicago fire. Backs away from criticizing specific commissioners. Fantastically high rents, even when controlled. Landlords who use the lower rents to justify not making repairs. Relocation agencies. Problems creating a sense of community in public housing.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 72125
Municipal archives id: LT8289
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
Our building inspector is taking bribes is clear and substituting news for all is local corruption the real cause behind the slum problem is New York City making it strong enough to drive to combat the slum problem for the answers to these and other questions listen now to your city stations campus press conference each week at this time in this transcribed discussion editors of college newspapers question and where they personality our moderator is a noted editor and us by phone and Jay Nelson tough now to introduce the panel and tonight's guest here is Mr Tuck Good evening it is not often that a moderate a clergyman of our city girds his cassock about his law and leaves a beloved piece of mind behind and goes out into the political arena to fight for what he believes to be right our guest tonight on campus price conference has done just that he is the Reverend James. Rector. Church of St Matthew in St Timothy's twenty six West eighty fourth Street father Goswell has become a leader in the fight against the Fall slum conditions that surround his Westside church and has brought to public notice and to the district attorney evidence which he himself obtained of bribes paid by slum my in-laws to inspectors of the Department of Housing and buildings the police department and the fire department you have tonight to question Father Gus while I stands to go the N.Y.U. Square. Peter Franklin of the City College observation post Gem Fire all of the Fordham lexigram and Frank who is chairman of the Fordham Law for all four of. Them he was the first question well thought out how prevalent is this practice of taking bribes on the part of fire and building inspectors well. It's very hard to say because we could consider evidence wouldn't indicate necessarily the complete prevalence of this thing but what people say that is tenants and other people are concerned is it that it is very very prevalent. People tell me that it is very very prevalent would you recommend this. I recommend that we clean up this problem this problem of bribery and graft and that has to be done through the district attorney's office and the Department of investigations would be the first steps that you would stop bribing itself apart from punishing bribery to stop the bribing Well I think that public attention has to be brought to bear on the question because it's become too accepted in New York City and if the public realizes this is wrong and. Our moral. Consciousness is made more keen. That it will stop of course we still I think prosecution must be brought to bear. Something must be done about cases in which evidence is available Peter followed the you feel that the city officials have been helping enough in this drive to combat. Yes I think city officials are doing all that they can but it's a very difficult problem it's a very difficult problem to. Evidence because person who pays the bribe would rather pay the repair a building often cheaper than the actual repair job necessary for good health standards and good safety standards in a building and so both the briber and the bride. Would prefer to. Maintain the status quo even if it isn't right. Father in many cases to pay a penalty even to pay a fine is cheaper as well than to repair a building in other words many of the offenders would rather go to court and pay one fine if necessary rather than repair the houses do you think there's something to do about this I think I think there is because I think that I know our deputy commissioner building mention that the judiciary is partly to blame for the conditions because there are fines have been too small and the judges should realise that when bad housing perpetrates human misery. Many many families hundreds and even thousands of families in the city that this is not just a very small offense which requires a very small fine and I know this to be true because I've had I've been in court myself on certain housing problems one case involved people not having. One year until the fifth of December that he was turned down from the farm until the fifth of December people went without heat and after many court sessions on this there was no fine at all opposed. Father last week on this program a deputy mayor Paul O'Keefe suggested that a special court to handle nothing but this kind of case might be helpful in that the judge would get to recognize the chronic and repeated violators that would be helpful I think I think it would be helpful. Of course I guess to city departments do have special courts that actually departmental cases where city department brings a landlord to court that they didn't hurt in the Magistrate's Court but sometimes it might be good if the tenant has the right to serve a summons on his landlord and bring him to a special court just the magistrate's court for violations of the Penal Code twenty forty. Bar Lately there has been a lot of talk about raising slums and building new projects do you think that would solve the problem well. The only difficulty is that you can't tear down more apartments and you build and often when we raise slums we tear out a thousand apartments and build five hundred in their place and that means that we. Really were. As far as the whole of the city wide problem is concerned I think we have to guard against that. Jen Well father one thing that has been charged as encouraging the payment of bribes to city officials in the building department is the fact that the repairs necessary would be too costly due to the fact that there are unrealistic provisions in the New York City building codes that leave a right field for Brian pressure do you think this is good do you think there are unrealistic provisions requesting fantastic repairs I would say I'm just a parish priest and I really don't I'm not a lawyer and I'm not too familiar with the building codes but I have heard that they are very very complex and in my experience with making actually being responsible for making repairs has been a very bad one and I think perhaps too much is left up to the individual inspector as to whether a violation exists or does not exist. Do you think most of these bribes also less of the Father building inspector offered by the land a lot. That's an interesting question I think that sometimes it is the landlord that offers it sometimes it is the specter that solicits the reason I ask a friend of mine now deceased. Complained bitterly about being solicited for bribes. And he would never pay them he was a very virtuous man. Made all sorts of. Position to judge whether what he had to do was necessary or not but he felt that he was being preyed upon the complaint I think I think many landlords would feel that way. Father recently commissioned a counseling stated that not enough people bothered to come to his office and complain about the violation is your experience does your experience show that this is true. Complain about violation and I don't bother to go to his office and complain about the violations and I know what's on the buildings and because of that his office doesn't know well because his office is the office to take violation complaints and that's that apartment building. I think he is saying that not enough people are coming forward to develop the evidence of. What you think. I think that's lamentable. That's lamentable because I don't know who has come to his office or what his office is doing he can speak for himself. Stant father last week Deputy Mayor O'Keefe indicated that the population problem is probably one of the major problems leading to our slum conditions in New York in other words the population in New York is constantly increasing Do you think it would be to the advantage of New York City to discourage people from entering the know because after all we love the city of New York it's the center of our civilization as far as I'm concerned at the New Yorker it's a wonderful place and I wouldn't want to discourage anyone who wanted to move to New York it's a great place to live and and people I want everyone to feel that way and I don't think we have a right to discourage an American from moving to New York he should be encouraged as a possible lot of if they keep on moving to New York it won't be a great place to live but I well. I don't think so I don't think so because we were there that it would be quite impossible for all the United States to live in New York. All the people in the United States that is but really we do have a problem for instance from Puerto Rico it was stated that about fifty thousand people were moving into New York every year and I imagine there are just as many people moving from the south every year into New York City but I think that emigration has cut down some but it does make for for difficult housing situations now where there is going to be overcrowding and we know that when we have more people moving in and we have apartments for some people have to live in crowded conditions but I still think that property owners can maintain and hot water and adequate electricity and gas and extermination of rodents and vermin and garbage disposal so that even these overcrowded places can be leased not below health standards. As long as landlords maintain those things I think that that's pretty good but it's when landlords say when the landlord doesn't pay his electric bill and allows fifty families to go without a lot of electricity I think that's pretty terrible and he should receive a very severe penalty for that Jim Well father any recent thinking of bribery of Fire Department factors must be colored by the recent cargo fire recent right after the fire commissioner Kavanagh did make intensive violation inspections possible utilizing the public furor that was that arose after the fires but it's the average citizen I would hope that taking a bribe when which reason results in this sort of a condition is such a fantastic crime that the failure to expose bribery up until this time might indicate a lack city some do you believe father that Commissioner Kavanagh has felt satisfied fully with bribery in the past well now I guess I have to I'm I'm just a parish priest and I really don't know what Commissioner Kavanagh was done in the past I'm not up on that side of a matter of fact I was quite surprised when evidence was turned over to me that that there were briberies to the fire to far because the thing that I've been most concerned with in the parish is actual housing violations and conditions in a building and those things have to do with a building department more than a fire department so I was that's a new side had just come to me by people turning over. Peter father have you found that since the day when you first feel this evidence that many more people sort of step in your side and come out with information with before they you know we've had great stacks of mail that we're great we're appreciative of the many many people over the left sent letters to the parish. About all this and. Some of these letters contain evidence to tell father what about on the other side of the times. Warning we had we had a threat. We had a threat. A week ago last Monday and. That there was a threat that somebody would blow up the church if we didn't stop there. Or if you know I didn't take it serious nothing more recent So nothing really. That's right with the rent control structure the way it is right now the bank that the rents for Fortune better then relatively more. Bending money and keeping the house in better shape. The harvest. It's just incredible to realise what a legal rent. Westside because in some ways burnished Hartman's legal rents are just fantastic really high even though they be controlled they're fantastically high and I don't see how they could get much higher whether it was control or not it was fine well I mean I know a few landlords who on the basis of the Redfield receiving at present they try to spread it save as much as. And feeling that they can save on more of them or less just. Well I think that maybe that may be so in some cases in which ran out of fire but they're very low and they've been been low over the years because of rent control perhaps landlord would be if they if they got higher rents somehow they could they could feel freer to but when you get into the front IT department. Really fantastically and somebody building. That were originally built to house family now has fifty families in the N roll maybe between thirty and fifty thousand dollars a year to build the building might not be worth more than that from the point of sale. That. Moment from along. With lots of people have argued that the city housing projects long projects have been badly mismanaged and not physical that carry has made them through a brand new law rather than replacing the old. One through the. Breach of something where I don't agree to it and. Of course one of the duties of our housing clinic on the eighty fourth Street is to help families to secure a public house and we fill out form after four families to get them relocated into better housing and and when parishioners and people that we know through the clinic have moved into projects we find that their whole life is different. They they are proud of their apartments and they keep them beautiful and people that I've visited after they move and after they've lived there for some time seem to be fine citizens doing and so appreciative of the fact they have decent conditions Jim if you think that study is doing an appropriate job and agencies. Cities like this are doing appropriate jobs in the field of tenant relocation when they when an area is condemned for slum clearance we see again this is outside of my province but I would like to say this one thing that when we find a case which there are many families very badly overcrowded in the house if the department of Billy steps into that situation they have to impose violations of overcrowding and often that may mean that families have to move out yet the Department of Buildings has no relocation power and the city relocation agencies have no power to relocate families unless the families come from city on buildings I wish that a relocation agency could be employed to work side by side with that apartment building so that when the Department of Buildings has to. Put overcrowding violations in certain apartments then this relocation agency can assist the family in getting out of the violation there right now there's the building department has no house no Relocation Authority now about this title one side of it I don't know because it hasn't been a problem I've never Our parish is not in the middle of a title one project in those things haven't come to us Peter father in addition to the last point which you just made do you feel that there is any program that the city could put into effect to combat the problem but I