18 children living in NYCHA found with elevated blood lead levels so far this year

NEW YORK — New York officials have committed themselves to fighting the problem of lead in New York City Housing Authority developments, but 18 children with elevated levels of lead in their blood were found living in NYCHA so far this year, according to a newly released report by the agency's federal monitor.

Bart Schwartz was appointed on Feb. 28 and spent the last few months meeting with 104 tenant association presidents and visiting over 100 developments.

“I am not proud of how our NYCHA residents have been treated," he said on the first page of his report.

The agency failed to inspect for lead in paint at thousands of apartments, then falsely certified that they were meeting legal requirements.

"NYCHA’s response to external inquiries was frequently to cover up or minimize problems that it knew to exist, and executives speaking for the agency (at best) failed to conduct basic diligence before providing HUD and the public false assurances of compliance," Schwartz said. "The complaint attributes these issues to management dysfunction and organizational failure, including a culture where spin is often rewarded and accountability often does not exist."

The City's Department of Investigation determined in 2017 that their were problems in how NYCHA handled lead and Schwartz contends there are still major problems.

"NYCHA management has been less cooperative with respect to lead paint," according to the report.

Brenda Ambers' daughters were both found with elevated lead levels in their blood in 2004. PIX11 spoke to her and her daughters on July 9, 2018. Ambers' oldest daughter was 5 years old when she tested positive with a lead level of 13. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say no lead levels are considered safe and level 5 is considered toxic.

Ambers had a strong reaction to NYCHA's  new federal monitors report.

“The children are still in the same conditions and nothing is being done,” said Ambers. "It's got to end," she said

A common theme in the report is lack of “accountability” families on all levels of management. It's not the only problem, according to Schwartz.

Many living in NYCHA complain about their kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms.

"A simple understanding of the system reveals that often there is little, if any, correlation between closing work orders and completing the repair of a problem," according to the report.

Staffing is also “woefully inadequate," the federal monitor found. NYCHA employs 108 pest exterminators; that’s 1 exterminator per 1,400 apartments.

A spokesperson for City Hall said the Administration remains committed to meeting the needs of all 400,000 New Yorkers who call NYCHA home.

"The challenges at NYCHA run deep and stretch back decades, but we’ve made fixing NYCHA an all-hands-on-deck priority," the spokespersons said. "We’re aggressively implementing a plan to make $24 billion in repairs and upgrades, including fully renovating tens of thousands of apartments and eradicating childhood lead exposure. It’s going to take continued partnership from everyone to right this ship and improve the quality of life for all of our residents.”

NYCHA General Manager Vito Mustaciuolo said the issues in the report were expected. He added that NYCHA is already working with federal partners to resolve those problems.

“NYCHA’s challenges are deep rooted and changes will not happen overnight, but with the full commitment of our dedicated staff, we are taking the necessary steps to transform the Authority, and to improve the quality of life for our residents," he said.

The full report is available here.

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