September 13, 2018 / 5:26 PM / 6 months ago

No role for NYC tenants' groups to oversee public housing cleanup: judge

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge in Manhattan said two tenants’ rights groups deserved no formal role in a landmark settlement between New York City’s housing authority and the U.S. government to address years of health hazards, indifference and mismanagement plaguing public housing citywide.

FILE PHOTO: A man stands behind shattered glass at the front of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) housing that remains without power in the Queens borough neighborhood of Edgemere in New York, U.S., November 8, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

U.S. District Judge William Pauley on Thursday said the City-Wide Council of Presidents and At-Risk Community Services failed to show that the government could not properly represent tenants’ interests in “decent, safe, and sanitary housing.”

He also said the groups were not entitled to sign the government’s proposed consent decree with the New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”), but could formally oppose its approval, which he will consider at a Sept. 26 hearing.

Though “NYCHA tenants’ voices are important and must be heard,” the interest in moving the process forward efficiently “cannot be sacrificed on the altar of public outrage and opprobrium, no matter how justified,” Pauley wrote.

Lawyers for the tenants’ groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan declined to comment.

The June 11 settlement was intended to address NYCHA’s years of alleged lies and cover-ups to federal inspectors about its failure to comply with lead paint regulations and other rules to protect its roughly 400,000 low and moderate-income residents.

New York City agreed in the settlement to provide at least $1.2 billion of added funding to NYCHA over five years. The consent decree also called for a federal monitor to oversee the housing authority.

Pauley said the government had painted a “damning picture of systemic indifference to peeling lead paint, mold, insufficient heat, broken elevators, pests, and vermin” at NYCHA, along with a “culture infested with dysfunction and deceit.”

The tenants’ groups said the proposed decree was inadequate mainly because it gave tenants “no meaningful role” overseeing NYCHA’s compliance, and also because more money was needed.

In a July 9 television interview, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered inspections for at least 130,000 public housing apartments in the city that might still contain lead.

The case is U.S. v. New York City Housing Authority, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-05213.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Bill Berkrot

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