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A federal judge on Wednesday rejected a sweeping settlement that would have appointed a monitor to oversee the troubled New York City Housing Authority and would have required the city to pump more than $2 billion into repairs at the authority’s deteriorating buildings.
The judge, William H. Pauley III, said the settlement agreement hammered out in June between the Housing Authority, the city and the United States attorney in Manhattan did not have strong enough enforcement mechanisms, calling them “formless.”
He also said the proposed settlement sidelined Congress and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which are required by law to remedy public housing failures, instead leaving it up to the courts.
Supporters had hoped the agreement would salvage and transform the public housing system in New York City by providing additional oversight and providing an infusion of cash to fix the decrepit conditions in the city’s 176,000 public housing apartments. It came after the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan earlier this year accused the city’s housing authority in a lawsuit of systematic misconduct and outright lies in the management of the authority, which controls the nation’s largest stock of public housing.
“Any judicial decree entered in this action will have a direct, tangible, and long-lasting impact not only on the parties, but most importantly on Nycha’s tenants,” wrote the judge, who was appointed in 1998 by President Bill Clinton. “Because the Proposed Consent Decree is not fair and reasonable, and because its entry would disserve the public interest, the government’s motion for approval is denied.”
Rather than fight the suit initiated by the United States attorney’s office, the housing authority entered a settlement that would have imposed a federal monitor to oversee the Housing Authority, and the city also agreed to invest almost $2 billion to fix up the authority’s deteriorating buildings, where more than 400,000 poor and working-class New Yorkers live.
But Judge Pauley’s surprise ruling threw the future of the beleaguered housing authority into question. The ruling came after a remarkable hearing in September where dozens of tenants shared with the judge their accounts of the living conditions at Nycha, as the housing authority is known.
The judge wrote that he could not ignore the resident’s “harrowing accounts of the squalid conditions in their apartments and the indifference of Nycha management.” He said the agreement “is not fair, reasonable or consistent with the public interest.”
Judge Pauley cited what he depicted as vague enforcement provisions in the agreement, pointing out they would be developed by the monitor and “are not subject to the court’s approval.”
He also criticized the adversarial positions that Nycha and the United States attorney’s office had taken since the agreement was reached in June. The government, for example, has sharply criticized Nycha for failing to take immediate precautions called for by the settlement to protect residents during the abatement of lead paint.
“The adversarial positions the parties have staked” after signing the decree and while awaiting the judge’s ruling on the settlement “portend this court’s de facto conscription into superintending Nycha indefinitely — a role that judges are ill-equipped to assume,” the judge wrote.