City Official Declines to Address Rivington House Matter During Council Hearing

DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo. Photo via Council member Ben Kallos' Twitter feed.
DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo. Photo via Council member Ben Kallos' Twitter feed.
DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo. Photo via Council member Ben Kallos’ Twitter feed.

City Council members tried in vain Friday, during budget hearings, to learn more about the Rivington House fiasco.

Lisette Camilo, commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) testified before the government operations committee. Her agency signed off on a deed change, allowing the owner of the former nursing home to sell the property to luxury condo developers for $116 million. The decision is now the subject of multiple investigations.

“Because we want to protect the integrity of the investigation, we’re not going to be able to speak to specifics,” Camilo told Council members. Camilo has only been in charge of DCAS since January. The deed change was approved by her predecessor, Stacey Cumberbatch, in November of last year. Camilo was formerly in charge of the city’s office of contract services, which also signed off on the removal of the deed restrictions.

During her testimony, Camilo said DCAS has put all pending deed change applications on hold while the investigations are conducted. There are 13 or 14 active requests, according to the commissioner. In its story, the Wall Street Journal highlighted the concerns of Council members, including committee chairman Ben Kallos:

Mr. Kallos said the Rivington deal was disturbing, in part because it allowed a building once designated for a nonprofit to be turned into condos when the city could have used the space for other needs. “We need schools like you wouldn’t believe. We also need homeless shelters. And affordable housing,” he said. Ms. Camilo said agency officials shared council members’ concerns about the Rivington deal. “No one was happy with the outcome,” she said.

Friday’s hearing was held jointly with the finance  committee. That panel’s chair, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, asked the agency to provide information on all deed restrictions in the past five years. Camilo agreed.

On Friday, the New York Times reported on a deed change in Harlem that was also mishandled by DCAS.

The Council is anticipating a hearing next month specific to the Rivington House matter. Those detail have not yet been released.