On Tuesday, September 14, 2021, via Zoom, NYCHA Federal Monitor Bart M. Schwartz and the monitoring team’s Resident Engagement Team Leader, Asha Muldro, hosted a community meeting for Bronx residents, elected officials, and community leaders. A recording of the meeting is available here.
Mr. Schwartz opened the meeting discussing NYCHA’s capital versus operational funding, and the need to have increases in both to improve NYCHA in the present and near future, as well as in the longer term. The following is a summary from the Ninth Quarterly Report Letter of what he spoke about concerning improving the Operations Division.
“A good way to think about capital projects is that they generally focus on improvements to long-term infrastructures and fixtures, such as replacing roofs, boilers, elevators, interior building piping, or building a new community center. On the other hand, operations work generally concerns the maintenance and repairs of assets and equipment, as well as the work required to provide services to residents. Operations funds are used to cover the costs for staff salaries (NYCHA’s major operational expense) and for other resources needed by the staff to perform their work, such as the costs for training, equipment, computers, phones/hand-held devices, vehicles, and Maximo and other data platforms, among many other things.
Over the last few years, NYCHA has focused on improvements, particularly with the introduction of its BluePrint for Change, with the aim of raising substantially more funding for its capital projects. That makes sense, because it is clear that NYCHA must replace many of its aging boilers and elevators and rehabilitate much of its building infrastructure. Over time, these assets will continue to degrade and will ultimately reach a point where no amount of maintenance or repairs will keep them going. But completing these new capital projects will take time, even under the best of circumstances – years in many cases. What are the residents supposed to do in the meantime? Focusing solely on increasing funds for NYCHA capital projects to the detriment of operating expenses would delay improving conditions for residents now and in the short term in the hopes of future rebuilding.
The push to rebuild NYCHA by completing these new capital projects cannot be done to the exclusion of improvement in NYCHA’s operations performance – mainly the delivery of core services to its residents. While the HUD Agreement obligates NYCHA to complete significant capital improvements – especially new boilers and elevators – the main pillar service improvements that NYCHA and the city committed to in the Agreement center on the work of NYCHA’s Operations Division. The primary work of the monitorship has been on these main service delivery areas, including: 1) reducing the number and duration of various service disruptions like heating and elevator outages, 2) responding faster and more effectively to resident complaints of mold and pest conditions, apartment leaks, and insufficient heat, 3) identifying more effectively and then correcting lead-based paint deficiencies in units and 4) ensuring that buildings and units are properly maintained and that needed repairs are properly performed, including ensuring that developments are cleaned daily and that garbage is managed and removed. It is also important to remember that one of Operation’s central jobs is also to properly maintain the completed capital projects – such as boilers, elevators and building infrastructure – so that they last and are in use to serve residents for their intended lifespans.
Under the HUD Agreement NYCHA must implement a new Organizational Plan precisely because, during the process of negotiating the consent decree and then the Agreement in 2018-2019, it was realized that NYCHA’s organization had become outdated, and in many ways ineffective and inefficient. This was particularly true regarding its ability to deliver core services to residents, its main operational obligation. Going forward, the centerpiece of NYCHA’s new reorganization strategy is to decentralize its operations and move to a “Neighborhood Model,” premised on the idea that greater localized control and accountability by NYCHA managers and supervisors at the developments will improve operations. More details about the roll out of this plan are discussed later in this report.
There are two necessary elements for improving NYCHA’s operations. First, NYCHA must increase its efforts to improve operational performance with the resources it presently has. This includes: 1) continuing to collect and use its data to drive decisions, 2) more effective staff management including worker compliance with standard operating procedures and other protocols, 3) more comprehensive staff training, 4) better communication between and among pillar service areas, and 5) fostering a true service delivery mentality and culture of integrity among staff for the work they do.
As part of these improvements, the Operations Division must become better at finding solutions and overcoming common failures that often undermine its performance, particularly at the development level. To take a recent example, Monitor team field examiners discovered this past May that individuals had commandeered two terraces at a Bronx development by placing locks on the terrace entry doors, excluding other residents and development staff. The individuals turned one terrace into a private gym and the other a motor bike repair shop, which creates a safety issue because of potential fire hazards. We learned from our interviews of residents that this circumstance had existed for some time. When we notified development staff, they were aware of the gym but apparently not the bike shop, which raises a concern about how well they know the conditions of their buildings. What was very clear was that development staff were not going to address the issue; we spent the next three months pushing the development to reopen the terraces to all residents with no results.
Finally in mid-August the development hired a vendor to remove the locks and the materials (gym equipment and bikes) from the terraces, under the supervision of the local NYPD PSA. Unfortunately, by the Labor Day weekend the same conditions returned and both terraces are once again locked and unavailable for common use. In a discussion the Monitor team had with the Operations Division in August, all agreed that local development staff were possibly not equipped to correct this problem and that a more centralized security-type enforcement team within Operations should be established at NYCHA to address this and other similar circumstances. But situations like this where there are potential safety concerns for local staff to take actions are common enough that NYCHA should have a workable process in place. It is now two months after that conversation and nothing to our knowledge has been done or decisions made regarding next steps to correct this and reopen these terraces to all building residents.
Another example of the kind of performance breakdown that the Operations Division must more quickly overcome is the problems with the door sweep installation project that is addressed later in this report. As described in more detail below, it took NYCHA three attempts over the last two years before it finally corrected the flaws in its process and began to perform these installations satisfactorily. A common thread in all these and other examples we have seen during the monitorship is that NYCHA at times seems to accept failure as an option rather than addressing and then resolving problems head on.
Second, in addition to NYCHA improving its overall operational performance, it is equally critical that NYCHA be provided with additional funding to meet more of its operational needs – both to implement the Neighborhood Model and to otherwise comply with its performance obligations under the Agreement. Among other things, NYCHA needs more staff in many areas – in its heating and elevator departments, mold and lead-paint remediation/abatement, skilled trades (painters, plumbers, plasterers, electricians, carpenters), and maintenance workers and caretakers at the developments. For example, NYCHA indicates that it does not have the money to hire an additional 300 mold remediation workers (or to retain vendor equivalents) in various skilled trades – the number that NYCHA acknowledged was needed during the drafting of the Mold Action Plan in early 2020. Without such workers, NYCHA will be unable to significantly improve its compliance with the mold remediation requirements of the HUD Agreement.
There is a need for more and better staff trainings, both in-classroom and in-field, as well as the equipment necessary to support staff in their work. More operational resources are also needed in connection with the reorganization of several departments within NYCHA, especially procurement, human resources, safety and security, materials and asset management, IT, and resident engagement. As the Monitor, I will continue to advocate for more operational funding for NYCHA, as well as continue our work with each pillar service area to improve performance with NYCHA’s current resources.”
In addition, Citywide Council of Presidents Inc. (CCOP), President and Community Advisory Committee (CAC) member, Danny Barber, announced that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by and between NYCHA and CCOP has been completed and was signed on September 8, 2021. The MOU is geared around 964 HUD regulations which govern resident associations.
During the public session of the meeting, Bronx residents expressed their concerns, provided recommendations, and asked questions. NYCHA residents outside of the Bronx community also participated during the public session.
Ms. Muldro reminded everyone that the next Community Advisory Committee meeting will be held virtually on Tuesday, October 12, 2021, at 6:00 PM. It will be streamed live on the NYCHA Monitor’s YouTube channel.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Schwartz stated that the monitoring team will be focused on long-term projects related to heat, hot water, and elevators.