NEW YORK (AP) — The nation's largest public housing agency will pay billions of dollars to settle claims that it lied to the federal government about failing to comply with lead paint regulations and other maintenance issues that endangered low-income residents and their children, federal prosecutors said Monday.
The accusations stemmed from an investigation that found widespread mismanagement at the New York City Housing Authority, known as NYCHA, which has received thousands of complaints each year about broken elevators, insufficient heat, mold, and infestations of rats and cockroaches.
"Today marks the beginning of the end of the nightmare for these residents," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a news conference.
The agency "engaged in a culture of false statements and concealment" when filing reports required to secure federal housing subsidies, he said. "The culture of NYCHA is to blame. The management of NYCHA is to blame."
The city agreed in a consent decree in Manhattan federal court to pay $1 billion over four years and an additional $200 million annually for the following six years. The deal also calls for the appointment of a monitor to oversee the housing authority during the 10-year span of the agreement.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, called the settlement a "dramatic step" and a "turning point for our public housing system."
The settlement came in response to a civil complaint that zeroed in on what it portrayed as the agency's indifference to the risk of lead paint poisoning children, saying, it "knows that there is lead paint within apartment units in roughly thirty percent of its developments, but has failed — and continues to fail — to protect its residents from that paint when it peels and crumbles." Between 2010 and 2016, there were 19 confirmed cases of lead poisoning of children exposed to paint in public housing apartments, with hundreds more testing above safe levels for lead, it said.
"The problems at NYCHA reflect management dysfunction and organizational failure, including a culture where spin is often rewarded and accountability often does not exist," it said.
The housing agency's annual operating budget is $2.3 billion for public housing where nearly 400,000 low- and moderate-income residents live. Tenants pay an average of $522 a month in rent, with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development subsidizing the rest.
In April, public housing chairwoman Shola Olatoye stepped down amid increasing public scrutiny of her tenure over the lead paint and heat issues.
Berman noted that the NYCHA has new top management.
"We're hopeful with the federal monitor and the funds available that they're going to be able to right the ship," Berman said.
Associated Press writer Larry Neumeister contributed to this report.