A New York judge on Wednesday rejected a $2 billion deal aimed at settling lawsuits over unhealthy conditions for 400,000 residents of the nation’s largest public housing system, saying more can be done in buildings that are “literally falling apart.”
U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III rejected the plan after a public hearing in September attracted dozens of residents who complained about rats, roaches and mold in their buildings.
Pauley said he listened to the residents provide “harrowing accounts of the squalid conditions in their apartments” and the indifference of those responsible for maintaining the buildings.
“This human dimension cannot be ignored despite the parties’ attempts to limit the court to a perfunctory review of the validity and form of the settlement,” the judge wrote.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement that his office was reviewing Pauley’s decision.
In rejecting the deal, Pauley said it suffered from “fatal procedural flaws,” including insufficient enforcement mechanisms. He said a solution might need to come with input from the federal Housing and Urban Development department.
“Congress endowed HUD with a robust arsenal of remedies to address a public housing agency’s management and operational failures,” he said.
The judge said, “desperate times call for desperate — and sometimes politically unpopular — measures.”
He said authorities may have to consider public-private housing partnerships or replacing management of the New York City Housing Authority, which is known as NYCHA.
“NYCHA’s apartments and buildings are literally falling apart — and NYCHA knows it,” Pauley said.
The housing authority has received thousands of complaints each year about broken elevators, insufficient heat, lead paint, mold and infestations of rats and cockroaches.
In June, Berman announced the settlement, saying it marked “the beginning of the end of the nightmare for these residents.”
At the time, the deal drew praise from Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio.
On Wednesday, Eric Phillips, a mayoral spokesman, said the mayor’s housing reforms, including those described in the consent decree, will move forward.
“We will, at the same time, be responsive to the court, and we look forward to continuing to partner with the United States attorney to improve conditions in public housing,” he said in a statement.
The consent decree rejected by Pauley called for the city to pay $1 billion over four years and an additional $200 million annually for the following six years. The deal also called for the appointment of a monitor to oversee the housing authority during the 10-year span of the agreement.
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. Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidizing the rest.