NEW YORK, NY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a state investigation of the New York City Housing Authority on Monday after touring a moldy, roach-infested apartment in the Bronx. The state Department of Health will investigate mold, lead paint and other "public health hazards" in NYCHA complexes in the latest probe of the beleaguered agency, state officials said.
Cuomo and Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, announced the probe after they saw conditions Zucker called "shameful and potentially dangerous" on a tour of Jeffrey Blyther's apartment at the Jackson Houses in the Bronx.
The officials saw evidence of mold, cabinets filled with cockroaches, potentially dangerous paint peeling from the walls and a ceiling that looked like it was collapsing. Blyther, a 42-year-old with cerebral palsy, shares the apartment with his two children and his 14-month-old grandson, Jessie.
"It is disgusting, it's uninhabitable and it is just shocking that in New York State, we would have people who are subjected to these conditions," Cuomo said Monday morning at a news conferenceoutside the Jackson House. "And on behalf of the people of the state, I apologize to the NYCHA residents, because they deserve better, and they'll get better."
Cuomo also took a step toward declaring a state of emergency for NYCHA by asking for input from Mayor Bill de Blasio's office and the City Council on what provisions such a declaration should include. The governor will issue a declaration on his own if local officials don't make recommendations by April 1, he said.
In his his latest fusillade against de Blasio and NYCHA, Cuomo blamed the "upsetting and disturbing" conditions he saw on the housing authority's failed management, saying NYCHA's tangled bureacracy means money is spent and repairs are made too slowly.
He expressed support for legislation that would let NYCHA use the "design-build" contracting method, which would move construction projects along more quickly.
But a state of emergency is part of the answer, too, Cuomo said — it would allow for an independent manager or monitor to oversee needed work, or even let the state fully take over NYCHA. Cuomo wants to hear initial feedback on what a state of emergency should entail from City Council members in Albany tomorrow, he said.
"We need a new management solution that bypasses the NYCHA bureaucracy," Cuomo said.
Cuomo has become increasingly aggressive toward de Blasio's handling of NYCHA since revelations of the agency's four-year lapse in legally mandated lead inspections and systemic heating outages this winter.
The investigation and preparations for a state of emergency are the latest episode in Cuomo's feud with de Blasio, his political nemesis and fellow Democrat. The governor decided to set foot in a NYCHA building on a day when the mayor was away in Austin, Texas and Washington, D.C.
Speaking in the mayor's stead after Cuomo's tour, two of de Blasio's deputy mayors, Dean Fuleihan and Alicia Glen, told reporters the state needs to give NYCHA the $200 million it promised and let the agency use the design-build method. But they reportedly did notcomment explicitly on whether they support or oppose a state of emergency.
Cuomo's "disingenous" criticisms of NYCHA's efforts to fix heating systems show he doesn't understand how complex the housing authority's needs are, Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, reportedly said.
"You know what he can do? He could also give us another $200 million so we can continue to go down the list and hit more and more developments and give the kind of necessary heating plant upgrades that we need," Glen said, according to a video from the deputy mayors' City Hall news conference.
NYCHA submitted a plan in November to spend the $200 million allocated to it in the current state budget. The plan includes $100 million in boiler fixes at 11 developments and $100 million worth of elevator upgrades at 11 complexes.
Cuomo's office said the plan was incomplete, and state officials continue to meet with NYCHA about remaining issues, including the state's desire that the work get done in a year. But the state's questions don't "impede them from releasing this money and getting work underway," de Blasio spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said in an email.
Cuomo, though, said the state has no obligaton to fund NYCHA, adding that money isn't the answer when it can't be spent efficiently.
The Cuomo administration's investigation of NYCHA is not the only recent probe the housing authority has faced.
The city Department of Investigation revealed in November that NYCHA failed to check apartments for lead paint for four years but falsely told federal officials the inspections had been done. NYCHA's lead-testing practices also sparked a separate probe by federal prosecutors.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced an audit of NYCHA's heating systems in January after thousands of tenants lost heat and hot water during a major snowstorm that month.
The housing authority also faces a lawsuit from the Citywide Council of Presidents, a group of tenant leaders.