HARLEM — Public housing officials under-reported their maintenance backlog by nearly 40 percent and closed work orders without performing repairs, according to an audit released Monday by Comptroller Scott Stringer.
The audit found that NYCHA routinely closed non-emergency work orders if residents are not home when NYCHA visits their apartments.
“The truth is thousands of repairs were completed on paper only,” Stringer said Monday in front of the Grant Houses at 125th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. “This is the worst kind of magic trick — making problems disappear on paper while leaving NYCHA residents to deal with faulty wiring, falling plaster, and dangerous homes.”
Additionally, NYCHA does not include outstanding violations from the New York City Fire Department, Department of Buildings, and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in its tally of backlogged repairs, according to the audit.
NYCHA dismissed the audit before it was even released, saying the Comptroller was simply “recycling old data,” by criticizing the agency for its 55,000 work order backlog. NYCHA said the audit focused on Housing Authority issues that happened under the previous administration, before the appointment of chair and CEO Shola Olatoye.
“Reviewing old work order data from January 1, 2013 — July 31, 2014, the audit measure a long-acknowledged, well-documented issue, which the new leadership at NYCHA was brought onboard to fix,” NYCHA Chief Communications Officer Jean Weinberg said in a statement.
On closing repair orders simply because residents aren’t at home, NYCHA said, “work orders are closed like operations in a doctor’s office.” If patients make an appointment and don't show up, they have to make a new appointment, according to the statement.
However, it was acknowledged that the current system is flawed because they don’t have measures in place to figure out if it was the “doctor or the patient” that missed the appointment, according to NYCHA.
Additionally, the Housing Authority announced a "Fix-It-Forward" initiative aimed at overhauling maintenance and repair operations Sunday.
Ernest Rose, 69, who has lived in Grant Houses since the late 70’s, hopes the audit brings some change.
“There have been reports before,” he said. “The cameras come and they talk but it’s all talk. Nothing changes.”
There has been a hole in the ceiling of his first floor apartment since May. The leak has spread to a closet and Rose keeps the place dry by putting buckets on the floor.
When repair crews come, they often can’t do the work, he said.
“Plaster guys came in but they couldn’t do the work because of the leak,” he said.
Stringer called on NYCHA to adopt recommendations aimed at making the housing agency more transparent and accountable to the public.
Those recommendations include creating a transparent management system that provides real-time breakdowns of key maintenance stats, updating and publicly releasing its “Physical Needs Assessments” which review major infrastructure needs, and initiating budget reforms to make its finances as transparent as any other city agency.
The comptroller also called NYCHA’s criticism of his audit, “boilerplate NYCHA language.”
“They have not been transparent about the challenges related to these violations,” he said. “They have not been honest with tenants and they are trying to put up roadblocks for us to get to the heart of the matter.“