Council To New York City Housing Authority: Where Is Our Money?

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The City Council wants answers: What has the New York City Housing Authority done with $65.4 million?

This afternoon City Council held an oversight hearing, which typically do not take place during the summer, to receive an update from the New York City Housing Authority on how it has allocated funds to install security systems in public housing.

NYCHA is the largest public housing system in the nation, with over 178,000 units and 400,000 residents.

"Today, Mr. Chairman, you get to tell us where you are in the process. Specifically, we want to know: Where is our money?" Committee Chair Rosie Mendez said to NYCHA Board Chairman John B. Rhea.

The chairman's answer proved to be complicated and more than a little confusing.

Right now, the Authority wants to install both cameras and a "layered access" system in 85 developments. These cameras will have the latest technology and "layered access" includes provisions such as modern intercoms, vandalism resistant surfaces, and key fobs.

The cost of new cameras will total $80,000 per building, which totals to over $200 million to complete new camera installations in all the developments. With the addition of layered access provisions, which will be modified depending on the building, NYCHA anticipates a nearly $500 million price tag for the entire project. 

Rhea was quick to acknowledge the shortcomings of his organization, saying that he decided in 2010 to step back from the project to reassess.

This delay has left $42 million in City Council funds unused and only one out of 85 NYCHA properties fully outfitted with a security system. Five others are currently in the construction phase.

So what's taking so long?

According to NYCHA's Chairman, it's been a combination of poor time management, negotiating with residents and elected officials, and not enough funds.

"When it costs $80,000 per building to install all that we would like to, but we only have $500,000 allocated for a specific building, some hard calls have to be made," Rhea said. "It's a lot of negotiating with the residents and getting figures from contractors to try to make everyone happy."

Rhea ended his testimony by asking the City Council to create an annual allotment of funding for NYCHA.

His request was met with more than just hesitance.

"There is a human face to this," said Council member Michael Nelson, who has the NYCHA Nostrand development in his area. "There is a lot of fear and anguish by the residents who are essentially being held hostage in their apartments, especially at night. Expediting this process as much as possible is important."

Nelson has personally allocated $1.4 million in additional funding to NYCHA as of last month in an effort to get the security systems placed into Nostrand's 16 six-story development. Early estimates projected the completion of the security system installation by March, then estimates moved to August.

Now, the NYCHA says it will begin the installation in December, with hopes of completing the project by early spring.

And 2013 seems to be the year for NYCHA, projecting that all 85 developments included in the plans will be completed by the end of 2013.

At the start of the hearing, Chair Rosie Mendez stated that the City Council had put in a request to the Boston Consulting Group for them to release data on NYCHA. The information was recently made public and follow-up oversight hearing will be held this fall to discuss BGC's findings.

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