Mendez Defends NYCHA, Says Security Cameras Are Coming Soon

At City Hall yesterday, City Council member Rosie Mendez, along with fellow lawmakers and public housing residents, blasted the New York Daily News for a series of articles critical of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

In the past, many of those gathered before TV cameras and microphones have themselves been highly critical of NYCHA red tape and incompetence. But during the midday news conference, Mendez and others defended the agency, saying Chairman John Rhea had made major strides during his short tenure.  They said there’s real concern that continued bad press will jeopardize federal funding for public housing, which has been decimated in the past decade.

In recent weeks, the News reported that NYCHA has failed to spend more than $1 billion in federal funds earmarked for repairs and has delayed the installation of security cameras, even though $42 million has been allocated for the project.  The Council members assembled yesterday lambasted the tabloid for telling a “one-sided story” and for failing to report the complexities involved in fixing a massive city agency working to overcome years of mismanagement and neglect. Mendez, the chair of the Council’s public housing committee, said, “it’s not perfect but we’re working to make it better.”

A Daily News reporter stood right in front of the Council members yesterday, as they critiqued the paper’s coverage of NYCHA. This is how the News reported the news conference today:

…a Council member with close ties to NYCHA board member Margarita Lopez Tuesday defended the agency and its board members’ six-figure salaries… Mendez served as Lopez’s chief of staff when Lopez was on the Council and is also the board member’s neighbor in an East Village building where residents pay lower-than-market rents. She said paying board members nearly $200,000 makes sense. “The housing authority has 2,602 buildings over five boroughs and these members travel throughout the city. I believe they need their cars,” Mendez said.

Mendez said NYCHA is beginning to make progress in installing security cameras.  Last December, she visited the Campos Plaza housing development on East 12th Street, where teenager Keith Salgado was shot and killed.  At the time, Mendez said security cameras “would be a reality” there in the near future.  Yesterday, she told us the installation work is expected to begin this fall.

She and NYCHA staff have been meeting with residents to determine where the cameras should go (there’s not enough money to wire the entire complex). Mendez told us cameras have already been installed at the Jacob Riis Houses.  She and Council member Margaret Chin, as well as the borough president, have allocated $800,000 for the sprawling Baruch Houses.  But $6 million is needed for cameras at the development, so the agency will be doing preliminary work on the fiber optic network at Baruch while the search continues for more funding.  Nancy Ortiz, the tenant president at the Vladeck Houses, said yesterday she understood the delays, noting that it’s  a big and complicated project. Cameras are scheduled to be installed at Vladeck in October.

Kelly Magee, Council member Chin’s communications director, said lawmakers have been working closely with NYCHA to set priorities for camera installation projects.  In addition to Vladeck, she said cameras will be coming to the Smith Houses  later this year (in November). Next year, cameras will be installed at the Rutgers Houses, the LaGuardia Houses, Two Bridges, the Hernandez Houses and the Seward Park Extension, she said.

Earlier this summer, a housing bureau cop was shot during a patrol at the Seward Park Extension.  The suspect is still at large; police have made it clear the presence of cameras would have given them more to go on; they scoured the neighborhood for surveillance video at other buildings in the vicinity.  Cameras are not scheduled to be installed at the development until next April.