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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio, HUD Secretary Carson Announce NYCHA Agreement

January 31, 2019

Secretary Benjamin Carson, Department of Housing and Urban Development: We’re delighted to be here in this frozen tundra on this day because we have warm news, and that is that NYCHA, and the City of New York, and HUD, along with SDNY have reached an agreement. Now, interestingly enough, the whole concept of public housing largely got started right here in New York many decades ago. And, you know, the idea was to be able to provide safe, and clean, and nurturing environments to give people an opportunity to move up the ladder. 

Over the course of the years, some things have happened that have been unfortunate and have resulted in environments that sometimes are not completely safe, with lead, and mold, and vermin, elevators that don’t work properly, and heating issues that put people’s lives in jeopardy. And we all recognize that this is a problem, and, you know, we have a couple of options, some of which are not particularly pleasant, but one of the best options, which is extremely pleasant, is when you have people who are willing to put the people first and then needs of the people first – and that’s what I found with the Mayor. We were able to put aside any political differences and think about, what would provide the right kind of environment for the people here? What had been the things that precluded that in the past? What kinds of things can we do now that are controlled at a local level and empowered by all of the various components to make sure that the people’s needs are taken care of? 

And I’m very excited about what we have agreed to here, because I think it sets a great precedent for what can be done in other places around the country. You know, public housing, assisted housing, these are things that we need to be concerned about – affordable housing especially we need to be concerned about because the cost of rents are going up about 20 percent faster than the cost for inflation and other things. And obviously, we’re going to have to get to the root causes of these things and fix them, because having a safe and nurturing environment is key to the human development. And our most important resource are our people, and if we want our people to be developed appropriately, we need to provide those basic resources to get them there, to show them there, because when they are developed it makes our country much stronger.

So, it’s been – I have to tell you, it’s been a pleasure, actually, working with the Mayor, with SDNY. You know, this has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans – it has everything to do with the people. 

And with that, I’ll turn it over to the Mayor. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. I want to affirm the statement you just made. You know, at the beginning of this process, I’m sure that there are many who would have predicted that Secretary Carson and I would not have been able to work together well and communicate and find common ground. But I want to thank Secretary Carson for his tremendous commitment to getting to an agreement. We put a lot of time in and I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary. I also want to thank your staff here and in Washington. I want to thank as well U.S. Attorney Berman and his team. 

This has been going on for many weeks and it’s taken a lot of work, a lot of focus. The Secretary and I have met in person several times here and in Washington. We’ve spoken constantly on the phone. And I actually used to work at HUD – I know something about HUD. I want to say, this Secretary has shown me a level of focus and concern that I deeply appreciate. And most importantly, the 400,000 New Yorkers who live in public housing I know will appreciate because we were able to get to a cooperative and constructive outcome. 

400,000 people who are the backbone of this city – I want to remind people, sometimes in the public discourse folks who live in public housing are stereotyped, and, I think, often stereotyped negatively and unfairly. They are the backbone of this city. They are every-day people who get up and work hard, many of them two jobs or more to keep this city running, and we owe it to them to provide them decent housing. 

Secretary Carson and I inherited a situation that was many decades in the making, and I wish we didn’t. I wish that over those decades there had been consistent focus and support for public housing at all levels of government, but there was not. We inherited a very troubled situation. But we resolved from the beginning to do something different and to find a way to cooperate in the interest of the people. What we have done here today I think creates a strong path forward and a very tangible path forward. As we met, we were both committed to very specific goals that would change and improve the lives of public housing residents. There was equal commitment, it was not something that one side wanted and the other one didn’t. We both wanted tangible and specific goals and timelines. We wanted to make sure there would be results. And I want to thank the Secretary also because I know he believes in something I believe in, which is local control – the power and the accountability that comes with local decision-making. 

I mentioned to the Secretary that just this week I was a town hall meeting in the Bronx, and NYCHA residents came up to me to talk about their concerns and issues, and that’s the way it should be, that they are demanding of their local leaders’ accountability and results. This agreement continues that and strengthens that. 

The agreement was made possible also by tremendous hard work not only by members of the City Hall team, but also the Office of Management and Budget, Operations – a number of City agencies participated – but most especially, everyone at NYCHA. And I want to thank Stan Brezenoff, Vito Mustaciuolo, and their entire teams who worked tirelessly over many, many weeks to put together this agreement. But I especially want to thank them for the progress that has been made, and is real and tangible – the NYCHA 2.0 plan, the progress we’ve made in reducing heating outages and speeding along repairs and recovery from any outage. Real changes are happening at NYCHA and this plan will help them to happen faster. 

Just a few quick points – we are 100 percent committed to providing the resources that we originally committed to back last summer. In over a 10-year timeframe, that is $2.2 billion in City money, and that is money that will be well spent on behalf of the people who live in NYCHA. This is on top of $4 billion in previous commitments we made that had nothing to do with the proceedings we’re addressing here, but were all about the commitment this City government feels to those residents. 

We are going to continue with our new 2.0 plan, it is going to allow us to fully renovate 175,000 apartments. We need HUD’s cooperation through the RAD program. We know that we have to in each case win approval development by development, but we also know that the Secretary and his team are committed to the principles of the RAD program, and they’ve been very receptive to working with us. 

And we see this as a partnership now. And I want to end on this note, we see this as a partnership to get things done for the residents. As we all talked – and I want to certainly include our colleagues at the U.S. Attorney’s Office when I say this – we kept talking about the goals we had to reach and how we could all help each other to get there, and this plan allows us to do it. It has created an atmosphere of partnership and a sense of shared destiny that will bent the 400,000 people who live in public housing. 

So, with that, I say, thank you, Mr. Secretary – and, would you like to take a few questions? Alright, some questions. Yes?

Question: [Inaudible] ask you if you are going to show NYCHA the money and if they’re going to have a seat at the table [inaudible] haven’t had a seat at the table for a very long time. What do you say to that?

Secretary Carson: Well, we’re very interested in the people themselves and what they have to say. And I’m very hopeful that the monitor will engage with the people themselves, with the resident councils. Of course the federal government will continue to support, financially, what’s going on here at the largest public housing complex in the country. You might be interested to know that already the federal government has committed $25 million to $30 million a week to NYCHA. So, it’s not a small commitment.

Mayor: Okay, way back.

Question: [Inaudible] 2.0 program [inaudible] –

Mayor: Look, the standards that were set last summer we thought were good. We signed the deal. We all signed the deal and it went before the judge and the judge asked us to go back and work on it again. But in that process we found a way to do something I think that’s even better which is this negotiated settlement, which concludes all the outstanding legal matters and allows us to move forward. So, that is different to have come to a larger agreement with much more tangible goals – just compare this against the consent decree from the summer. You will see this has a whole host of tangible goals on heat, vermin, lead, you name it. I think that’s an improvement for all of us.

And there’s a much clearer spirit of partnership and I am very content that we have actually gained ground for all of us and for most especially for the members – excuse me, the people who live in public housing that this agreement is superior to what we put together in the summer.

Secretary Carson: When you say, Mr. Mayor, also that there’s been improvements in the heating situation year [inaudible] quite significant [inaudible] –

Mayor: And I appreciate that, Secretary, and I’ve talked about this quite a bit – and again, tremendous credit to Stan Brezenoff, Vito Mustaciuolo, and their whole team. Last winter, we all agree, it was an unacceptable state of affairs. This winter we still have more work to do but I’ve kept the Secretary updated regularly. We now – we went last winter from an average recovery time in developments from 54 hours to now it was nine hours as of Martin Luther King Day. As of the last few days it went down to seven hours to get developments back their heat. This is a version of – an example of steady progress.

There have been times – because I check with Vito constantly – there have been many a day lately in this cold snap where no developments had a heat outage or only one in the whole city or several in the whole city. But it’s night and day from what we experienced last year. Yes?

Question: Mr. Mayor, in terms of the monitor, how [inaudible] federal monitor? Mr. Secretary, when will that person be announced?

Secretary Carson: We should have a name within the next couple of weeks – and obviously somebody that we all agree on and somebody who understands the role of a monitor. It’s my strong desire and hope and trust that the monitor will be mostly doing just that, monitoring, because I believe that the Mayor and his team are very committed to getting this work done. I don’t think that we’re going to be in a situation where the monitor and HUD and others have to come down and say, how come you guys aren’t doing what you’re supposed to do? And not only that – but you guys will act as the eyes and there will be quarterly reports coming from the monitor in terms of what progress has been made.

There will be specific landmarks that we will be looking to meet and people will be able to see whether that’s being done. So, transparency is going to be a big part of enforcement in this particular case. And I do want to take an opportunity to just say how hard the people have worked on this agreement. This was not come by easily and the Office of the General Consul and HUD and the Mayor’s Office and SDNY have worked around the clock. There have been times when they have stayed up all night. They’ve been working through the weekends. And this is not something that we’re taking lightly. I believe this is going to work.

Mayor: I affirm that. Just real quick – I affirm that and I want to say we believe that there are very productive models of monitorships and we have great examples. Right now the most obvious being at the NYPD where that monitorship in the stop-and-frisk case has been productive and constructive and we know what that looks like and we believe this will be a monitorship in that same vein. Marcia?

Question: Mr. Mayor, two questions. Number one – the agreement [inaudible] and secondly [inaudible].

Mayor: Marcia, on the second point, the NYCHA 2.0 plan accounts for $24 billion of the almost $32 billion needed and that is through things like the RAD program, the development that will occur – the private development on NYCHA sites that will give resources back to NYCHA, the air rights that we’ll sell to give resources back to NYCHA, and other forms of revenue that already exist including the City’s commitment. There is a last piece we need obviously and that, I will tell you – and I’ve had this conversation with Senator Schumer – we’re going to work hard to get that from Washington. And that will be an ongoing effort but we certainly have real resources available right now to start this serious work and to reach the goals that are in this plan.

On the question of the leadership – so in this plan we codify the pathway to having a new chair. So here’s the deal, we could not start effectively to negotiate with candidates to be permanent chair of the Housing Authority until this matter was resolved. There’s a lot of good talented people in this country and we look forward to wanting them being our new chair.

But no one was going to take the job until we resolve these structural issues. No one is going to leave their important job and come to New York City in a situation that’s unresolved and unclear and unstable. We now have the stability and the clarity to get a top-flight leader for the agency permanently. We’ve said all along that we’ve had an interim chair and Mr. Brezenoff has done an outstanding job but he was very clear he was interim and only intended to do it for a short period of time.

It was his commitment to public service to do that. But now we can start a formal nationwide search and I think we’ll be able to resolve that in just a few months.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: So, the search process will begin immediately. It’s delineated in the agreement. Stan will continue to work on a transitional basis as we prepare for a new chair and we’ll give you the timelines more as they develop.

Question: Doesn’t HUD have to approve [inaudible] Housing Authority and why [inaudible] –

Mayor: And I’ll just say, Mr. Secretary, I’ll go over the details [inaudible] –

Secretary Carson: Okay, yeah. Well, as was said, Mr. Brezenoff stepped in in an interim role. So, there automatically has to be new leadership. You can’t just leave it vacant. We are not going to try to micromanage what is going on here in New York City. Part of the agreement provides the ability to look, to monitor, to intercede if necessary. But I have great faith in the process that’s been set up here and I believe it’s going to work just fine.

Mayor: Mr. Secretary, I do too and I want to say the dialogue we’ve had over the last few months convinced me that we could have a process which really is unprecedented for cooperation. So, it’s codified in the agreement. We are welcoming nominations from HUD, from the Secretary and his team, from the U.S. Attorney. We’ll have our own nominations. We’re going to agree on a common list of names. We’re all going to interview those people but ultimately as the local elected leader I will make the final decision but it’s going to be a very collegial process because this is what has become clear to me – I want HUD to have faith that real change is happening here. HUD holds the key to a lot of what these 400,000 New Yorkers need.

HUD has tremendous regulatory power – decisions they can make on waivers can save us a lot of money, speed up our work. We need approvals on the RAD program to reach those 175,000 apartments. But the Secretary and his team have a right to believe that when they do that they’re seeing real results and that they have confidence in the work. I think one of the great confidence-building measures is we’re actually going to work together to figure out who is the right leader for the biggest housing authority in the United States of America by far and the same with the U.S. Attorney.

They have raised important issues. It’s been a constructive process. So, we’re all going to work together. I will make the final decision but I want to see as much as possible in a consensus process.

Thank you, everyone.

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