On Monday, federal prosecutors charged the New York City’s Housing Authority managers with claims of lying about lead poisoning numbers at their largest public housing agency. U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman filed the complaints in the Manhattan District Court and afterward required for the city to use 2.2$ billion to fix the mistakes.

The claims accuse the managers of having reported lower numbers of children poisoned by lead paint than accurate. They were exposed to the paint after it peeled, endangering the lives of thousands of families in the buildings. The number of exposed children between 2010 and 2016 was nineteen, yet the claim argues that this number undermines the effect that peeling paint has on the tenants. Berman stated to the press after the case was processed: “the 19 cases understate the true extent of lead poisoning likely to have been caused by crumbling lead paint at NYCHA. … There is every reason to believe the true number of children with lead poisoning is materially higher.”

He was soon to publicly blame the NYCHA’s administration for the events, arguing that their agency’s strategy to bend justice was rewarded and they failed to hold them accountable for their actions. He then highlighted the fact that lead poisoning has not been the only problem in this agency, also including failing heat machines for elderly citizens during the winter and non-functioning elevators. None of these errors was notified to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with the NYCHA stating that they were fulfilling their federal safety regulations.

The complaint directly states the authority’s intentions, writing: “NYCHA has been in violation of the regulations all along, and NYCHA managers knew it.” Their public housing agency was not only allowing for this mishandling of information to happen but actively encouraging and supporting it by giving its staff employees strategies to deceive HUD. Berman will also be responsible to choose a housing authority monitor, which will require the approval of several institutions.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has also pronounced himself about the events and mentioned that he was angered by the complaint and notification of an unfulfilled standard for public housing. He also stated that his administration could not have noticed these event prior, since they were blatantly lied to and had to reconsider what they thought was their situation. He apologized to the tenants because of the inconveniences and danger to their well-being and encouraged other institutions and groups to apologize as well.

Although Berman’s complaint has not filed a criminal charge, there is a possibility for the individual managers of the NYCHA to be charged with them. The claims were the result of a 31-month investigation, which goes in detail to explain the ways in which the agency escaped accountability for their actions from the federal law. The descriptions include the hiding of defective pipes, stuffing of holes inside walls or defective elevators leaving disabled residents inside their rooms for days. One description that particularly stands out reads: “Rather than repair broken doors, managers would summon a ‘magic carpenter’ to cover the area with plywood and paint over it ‘so that the inspector will not know there is a broken door at all.’ ” The report also claims that the authority’s leaders usually dismissed the residents’ complaints and showed a defensive and confrontational attitude towards them.

The complaint further states that “NYCHA’s response to external inquiries is frequently to cover up or minimize problems that it knows to exist, and executives speaking for the agency (at best) fail to conduct basic diligence before providing HUD and the public false assurances of compliance.”

Featured Image via Flickr/Kevin Case

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