A HUD Official Gets a First-Hand Look at NYCHA’s Woes

By February 19, 2019Articles

U.S. | NEW YORK
A HUD Official Gets a First-Hand Look at NYCHA’s Woes
Regional administrator Lynne Patton is living in public housing apartments for a month to report on residents’ complaints

By Melanie Grayce West
Updated Feb. 19, 2019 6:29 p.m. ET

Lynne Patton was in the musty basement of the Patterson Houses next to a rusted cabinet and a bucket of fetid standing water and no longer flashing her customary wide smile.

She was six songs into a no-frills group workout, a free program offered at this public housing development in the Bronx. Sweat poured from under her baseball cap with the presidential seal, and she cursed the pain while television cameras rolled. When the workout ended, she posed for selfies and promised her workout buddies that the years of disrepair in their public housing apartments would soon end.

Ms. Patton, the 46-year-old regional administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in New York and New Jersey, is on a monthlong live-in tour of the city’s troubled New York City Housing Authority developments.

She started in the Patterson Houses last week and will stay in the Douglass Houses in Manhattan until Friday. Included in her plans is to bring a Douglass resident to Washington, D.C. on Thursday to attend an African-American History Month event at the White House. In the coming weeks, she said, she will stay in NYCHA properties in Queens and in Brooklyn. Residents have volunteered to host her in their homes.

Patterson Houses resident Natalie Rosado, right, shows off the mold in her bathroom to HUD regional administrator Lynne Patton. PHOTO: BYRON SMITH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Ms. Patton said her ultimate aim with these immersive visits—which include sleeping on an air mattress, tours of often rundown apartments and grocery shopping with her host families—is to gather information to take back to the soon-to-be-named federal monitor who will have sweeping oversight of NYCHA.

“The appointment of that monitor—part of an agreement”– signed in January between New York City and HUD that resolves a federal lawsuit—gives Ms. Patton good timing to “get her hands on the reality of what is happening in public housing,” said Richard St. Paul, an attorney and special adviser to the NAACP branch of NYCHA. “I can’t recall any federal official doing what she’s doing.”

It has also given a lift to Ms. Patton, who previously worked for President Trump’s campaign and was an aide to Eric Trump and the Trump family.
Touring with TV cameras and reporters throughout the Patterson Houses last week

has raised her profile at multiple levels. Her connection to the Trump family isn’t in the first few pages of a Google search of her name now, much to her delight, she said.

NYCHA residents also now know, she said, that she is serious when she says “change is coming.” In fact, the phrase has become both a mantra and a hashtag, which she includes in the voluminous social media posts chronicling her stays.

Ms. Patton has a few key phrases at the ready.

“I am not new to NYCHA. I have been touring these properties for the last two years,” she said to doubters. Also, she often closes comments with, “Change is not going to happen overnight, but I’ll be damned if change is not finally going to happen.”

On at least a half-dozen occasions, she repeats a version of, “HUD gives NYCHA $30 million dollars per week in operating and capital repair funds. Where is that money going?”

In an interview, Ms. Patton says she sees asking where the money is going as her role, while New York City decries years of disinvestment by HUD. It is time to set that history aside, she said, comparing complaints about disinvestment to grievances by 15- year-old who, 10 years later, is still complaining about an allowance cut at age 5.

A spokeswoman for NYCHA said that in 2018, the city received $937 million of the $989 million in operating funds for which NYCHA was eligible, which is up from previous years. The city estimates it would take $32 billion to repair and refurbish all of NYCHA housing.

Newly appointed NYCHA interim chairwoman Kathryn Garcia said of Ms. Patton, “I think anytime she can bring attention from D.C. to the needs of affordable housing and making sure we’re making the investments in affordable housing, is important.”

Ms. Patton said that her efforts over the next few weeks aren’t a “let’s-all-bash- NYCHA-monthlong-journey.” At a minimum, she said, the visits will result in improvements to specific apartments and make each development tidier during the week she is there.

Natalie Rosado, for example, walked Ms. Patton and reporters through her moldy, water-damaged bathroom last Wednesday. Within a day, NYCHA workers were there to fix the buckled walls and tile of Ms. Rosado’s bathroom. But as of Tuesday morning, the work was only partially completed and she was still missing her bathroom sink.

Since Ms. Patton left, NYCHA workers “are back to doing their regular,” said Ms. Rosado. “They don’t care.” A NYCHA spokeswoman said they addressed the immediate issues last week and the remaining concerns Tuesday.

Ms. Patton has said repeatedly that the conditions in NYCHA apartments are a “humanitarian crisis.” At a raucous town hall at the Patterson Houses, residents pummeled her with questions about what actual change she would deliver. In a terse exchange with one resident, she said she understands residents’ concerns because she had seen a “ton of shithole apartments, as my boss would say

.”

Ms. Patton said she doesn’t regret using the “politically incorrect” word and knows it is a charged term that President Trump also used in a private comment made a year ago about African countries. “I don’t know another word to describe what we saw,” she said of the apartments she saw in Patterson.

“I know these are people’s homes and we should be respectful of that. But nobody else is being respectful of that,” said Ms. Patton. “And it’s not OK with me.”

Write to Melanie Grayce West at melanie.west@wsj.com

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