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Post-Hurricane Sandy Chaos Could Happen Again at City Public Housing: Audit

By Lisha Arino | December 15, 2015 2:49pm
 Comptroller Scott Stringer released a new audit that found that NYCHA was
Comptroller Scott Stringer released a new audit that found that NYCHA was "woefully unprepared" for emergencies like Superstorm Sandy on Dec. 15, 2015.
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DNAinfo/Lisha Arino

LOWER EAST SIDE — The New York City Housing Authority is “woefully unprepared” for emergencies like Superstorm Sandy at the Alfred E. Smith houses and all of its other complexes around the city, according to a new audit released by Comptroller Scott Stringer Tuesday morning.

In its latest review of the agency’s emergency preparedness and disaster recovery protocols, the comptroller’s office slammed NYCHA for a number of “deficiencies,” including the failure to keep track of its generators and update its tenant lists with accurate information, particularly for tenants with disabilities.

“Today I’m here to demand that NYCHA gets this right once and for all,” Stringer said in a press conference outside of the Smith houses, where residents were among the 80,000 NYCHA tenants left stranded without heat, hot water and electricity for days after Sandy hit the city and flooded the area in 2012.

“We need to have an emergency plan that works, not another set of lame excuses,” added Stringer, who was Manhattan borough president when Sandy slammed the area.

According to the audit, NYCHA failed to provide any information on the existence of generators at 55 percent of its developments citywide and the information it did provide was grossly inaccurate. Out of the 13 developments the comptroller’s office visited in person, 95 percent of the generators’ inventory tags did not match NYCHA’s central list, the audit said.

Aixa Torres, a tenant leader in the Alfred E. Smith Houses, said the audit should be seen as a starting point for collaboration between the city and residents to prepare for natural disasters and other emergencies.

“The purpose of an audit to tell you ‘This is what you’re doing right and this is what you’re doing wrong and how are you going to correct it?’” she said.

“It can’t be you and us. It has to be a ‘we,’” Torres continued. “How do we work together, with all of our elected officials to get this done so that we can save public housing?”

The comptroller's office also found that contact information for residents, especially those with disabilities was also incomplete and inaccurate.

For tenants who used wheelchairs, the emergency or contact information was correct only 20 percent of the time, and property managers’ lists did not contain information on residents who would be particularly vulnerable in an emergency, like those who are blind, deaf, or mentally or psychologically disabled, according to the review.

NYCHA disputed the audit’s findings, saying Stringer was “cherry picking data” and shifting the audit’s timelines “to paint an outdated picture” of the agency, which has been audited by the comptroller’s office seven times this year.

The comptroller’s office did not review the agency’s response to any major emergency since Hurricane Sandy — like Ebola, Winter Storm Juno, the Legionella detected at the Melrose Houses in the Bronx, the Papal visit and Hurricane Joaquin — and also overlooked components of its Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan, which factors in multiple hazards, NYCHA said.

“Over the past 18 months, NYCHA has worked to fundamentally change the way we approach emergency preparedness,” said the agency’s Chief Communications Officer Jean Weinberg in a statement.

“With the new year, we hope the Comptroller’s office will seek an elevated and more productive discourse with NYCHA — a partnership that helps unearth real issues where they exist — like our collaborations on improving inventory controls. Unfortunately, this audit was a missed opportunity to advance NYCHA’s efforts to become a more transparent and accountable landlord for our residents and the public,” Weinberg’s statement said.

The agency also maintains self-reported data on residents with disabilities, the elderly and those who use life-sustaining equipment, it said, and has been working to improve information collection.NYCHA is also working with the comptroller’s office to enhance its inventory controls and plans to monitor emergency generators with GPS tracking, it said.