NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A battle royal has begun over lead cleanup at New York City Housing Authority projects.

The federal monitor charges that NYCHA has fallen behind and is misleading the public. The embattled agency says that’s hogwash.

As CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported Monday, it’s all playing out as Mayor Bill de Blasio seeks the presidency.

“Why is it that we have to live like this?” one resident said.

Lead paint inside a NYCHA building. (Photo: CBS2)

A question public housing residents have been asking for years takes on new significance as NYCHA’s new federal monitor claims the agency is still dragging its feet in tracking down apartments with lead paint where children live or visit.

“It appears that no effort whatsoever was made to identify apartments in which children under 6 visit regularly,” monitor Bart Schwartz charges in a blistering letter to interim NYCHA head Kathryn Garcia.

Web Extra: Read the letter (.pdf)

Schwartz also charged that there was “very little likelihood” the agency would meet its self-imposed deadline of testing 135,000 apartments for lead by the end of next year.

“Such a schedule requires the testing of some 6,750 units per month. Data posted on NYCHA’s website shows that only 1,740 apartments were tested through May 17,” Schwartz said, adding at that rate it will take an extra 38 months to finish the tests.

“I was really very surprised by the letter. There’s no one at NYCHA who has done a victory lap or said we are fully in compliance. This is going to be a long process,” Garcia said.

Garcia, the interim NYCHA chair who is on leave from the Department of Sanitation, claimed she was getting little help from the monitor.

“We are literally building the car and driving 100 mph. We need all the help we can get,” Garcia said.

CBS2 urban affairs expert Mark Peters said the agency needs hundreds of new hires to get the job done.

“That’s an entire infrastructure that you have to build and it takes time and it’s going to be very hard for any interim chair to build that structure,” Peters said.

Garcia was supposed to be replaced months ago, but Mayor de Blasio has missed two deadlines to pick a permanent chair.

Peters said that’s a big problem.

“You can’t fix NYCHA with an interim chair, because what NYCHA needs is not simply a couple of quick decisions. It needs an overhaul. It needs an entire new administrative apparatus,” Peters said. “The longer we wait, the longer it is before we can start resolving this problem.”

Garcia told Kramer she thinks the agency will meet the 2020 deadline for completing the testing. A bigger problem may be finding the money to remove the lead paint. That may depend on who wins the next presidential election.


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