Pols Blast Housing Authority For Inadequate Safety Measures

nycha press conference 2Dana Varinsky Dereese Huff with a hammer she carries for protection.

Elected officials blasted the New York City Housing Authority this afternoon for not being quick enough to make security upgrades, citing a recent study that indicates many public housing residents don’t feel safe in their own homes. Meanwhile, the authority pointed the finger right back at local politicians.

In July and August, the offices of Borough President Scott M. Stringer, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh polled 520 residents at ten public housing developments, including Campos I, Jacob Riis Houses I and II, and the Lilian Wald Houses in the East Village, as well as seven others on the Lower East Side.

According to the report, which can be read below, more than 40 percent of survey respondents said they felt unsafe in staircases; only 45 percent indicated they have lobby doors with working locks; only 49 percent said their building had a working intercom; and 65 percent said not enough is done to prevent trespassing.

“The bottom line here is that even the most basic security is not happening at N.Y.C.H.A.,” Mr. Stringer said today at Seward Park Extension, later adding, “It’s time to fix the damn doors.”

nycha press conferenceDana Varinsky Borough President Scott M. Stringer

Touching on an ongoing point of contention, nearly 80 percent of respondents who did not have security cameras in their building said they would feel safer if they were added.

In March, Dereese Huff, president of the Campos Plaza Tenant Association, complained that the Housing Authority had yet to outfit the complex’s buildings with $400,000 in surveillance equipment, financed by Councilwoman Rosie Mendez. Months earlier, her friend’s son, Donovan “Keith” Salgado, had been shot to death at the complex.

At today’s event, Ms. Huff said tenants ask her on a daily basis when the cameras are coming. She said the Housing Authority originally told her cameras would be installed in September, but the date has now been pushed back to November. “I don’t feel safe,” Ms. Huff told The Local. “I walk with a hammer.”

crimestopDaniel Maurer Campos Plaza.

Last month, Councilwoman Rosie Mendez said during a press conference that the cameras would begin to be installed at Campos this fall. Ms. Mendez told The Lo-Down that cameras had already been installed at Jacob Riis Houses, but more funding is needed for the Baruch Houses.

A resident of a Bronx housing development told New York magazine last month that he was so fed up with the lack of cameras that he installed some of his own.

The Authority said in a statement that since the beginning of this year, it has had “a comprehensive strategy in place” that includes more cameras, wireless key cards, and “modern” intercom systems.

“Approximately 85 developments, of which 12 are located in the Lower East Side, will receive cameras and enhanced security features by the end of 2013,” read the statement, which went on to lay blame on local politicians. “NYCHA can only install these security measures in developments where elected officials have allocated discretionary funding. Neither Assemblyman Kavanagh nor State Senator Squadron has allocated funding for this. Borough President Stringer has allocated only marginal funding for the Baruch Houses.”

A representative for Mr. Squadron said the state senator had allocated $750,000 dollars for security cameras in his district, but that the funds has been blocked for nearly two years by the state senate’s Republican majority.

Mr. Kavanagh said the Housing Authority wasn’t doing enough with its existing budget. “Elected officials who have managed to ‘earmark’ funds for particular security features in buildings in their districts should be congratulated for attempting to assist N.Y.C.H.A. with meeting its basic obligations, but such one-shot allocations are no way to fund core services.”

In an e-mail to The Local, he later continued, “While we understand that the management of the Housing Authority has had a hard time lately, I simply can’t imagine that they believe that ensuring that there’s a working lock on the front door of every building where tenants live, and providing other standard security features, are ‘discretionary’ aspects of NYCHA’s mission.”

Mr. Kavanagh went on to complain, as did the report, that due to agreement made in 1995, the Housing Authority pays the Police Department in excess of $70 million a year as compensation for “above baseline” services, and yet Housing Bureau officers are often diverted to other causes such as Occupy Wall Street. It goes on to recommend that the city renegotiate the arrangement by which the authority uses its Housing and Urban Development subsidy to reimburse policing.

Almost half of the survey respondents said the police presence in their buildings is not adequate.

The survey comes on the heels of a recent Daily News report that the Housing Authority has spent only about a fifth of the $1.2 billion it has received, from 2009 through this year, to modernize its developments.

Last month, Ms. Mendez criticized the report as a “one-sided story.”

Report Protecting NYCHA Communities Squadron Stringer Kavanagh

This post was revised to include comment from State Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, who was misidentified as Patrick in the original version. That error has been corrected.