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Pols Slam Media for Criticizing NYCHA

By Jill Colvin | August 14, 2012 8:35pm
City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez accused the media of unfairly targeting NYCHA, the city's public housing authority.
City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez accused the media of unfairly targeting NYCHA, the city's public housing authority.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

CITY HALL — City Council members rallied to the New York City Housing Authority’s defense Tuesday following a series of stinging reports accusing the agency of failing to spend tens of millions of dollars earmarked for safety cameras and repairs.

Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who grew up in public housing, criticized the media, saying it should be cheering the improvements that NYCHA has made in recent years instead of focusing on residents’ concerns about unsafe conditions and repairs that take years to complete.

“It is not perfect, but we are working to make it better,” said Mendez, who blamed problems on lengthy approval processes and chronic under-funding by the federal government, which she said has cut more than a billion and a half dollars of much-needed cash in recent years.

She said that much of the money in question is already in the process of being used.

The criticism comes following a series of reports, including articles by the Daily News, which found that NYCHA delayed spending $42 million earmarked for new security cameras, and was on sitting on nearly $1 billion in federal capital repair funds, even as residents waited in squalid conditions.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has called for a complete overhaul of the authority, which he slammed as "an archaic and confusing relic from another time.” Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries is pushing for a federal investigation into possible mismanagement of federal funds by the authority, which houses more than 400,000 New Yorkers.

But Queens City Councilman Leroy Comrie accused reporters of lodging “vicious attacks and half-truths“ at the agency and making “scandalous allegations ... that are only one side of the problem.”

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow you to criticize” public housing residents, added a furious City Councilwoman Inez Dickens, adding, “I’m going to take the media to task!”

Brooklyn City Councilwoman Letitia James said that while problems certainly remain, she has seen significant improvements at NYCHA since John Rhea took charge in 2009, with personal tours of complexes in her district, new security plans, as well as authority-run job and education fairs for residents.

"I never thought that I'd be here defending NYCHA," said Mary McGee, 45, president of the tenants' association at the Soundview Houses in the Bronx, who agreed she'd seen significant improvements after years spent criticizing the agency.

“It’s been shameful,” she said of the bad press. “Now that we’re moving forward, shame on you.”