The news that the New York City Housing Authority falsely certified for years that it had inspected apartments for lead paint is a stark sign of how powerless public housing tenants can be and how much the system has eroded.
Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal established the federal public housing system to provide comfortable apartments with subsidized rents for hundreds of thousands of Americans. But as white working-class families moved out and poorer black and Hispanic families moved in, the federal government’s commitment withered.
Since the mid-1990s, a quarter-million units were demolished or removed nationally because of poor conditions, and the cost of unmet repairs reached tens of billions of dollars.
Public housing fared better in New York than in many other cities, in no small part because of the city’s commitment to providing decent working-class housing. But the federal government has reduced its contribution to the city’s Housing Authority by $2.7 billion since 2001, and the authority now has a repair backlog totaling $18 billion.
Under those circumstances, it’s not surprising that the city Housing Authority would struggle to fulfill requirements under city and federal law to check for lead-paint dangers in thousands of apartments prone to them. Still, it’s stunning that authority officials not only failed to carry out those inspections from 2012 to 2016 but also falsely told the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that it had done so, a city Department of Investigations report found.
The authority’s chairwoman, Shola Olatoye, was aware in the summer of 2016 that her agency’s certifications were false. She told Mayor Bill de Blasio at the time, but he did not make it public. It wasn’t until after the report — a year and a half after the mayor and Ms. Olatoye learned of the problem — that two executives were forced out and one demoted.