With the mayor giving speeches out of town, Gov. Cuomo came to the Bronx Monday to visit a bug-infested Housing Authority apartment that left him quietly furious.
“It is just shocking that in New York State we would have people subjected to these conditions,” he said after leaving the apartment in the Jackson Houses. “This situation we have seen is as upsetting and disturbing as I’ve seen anywhere and I’ve been in public housing across this country.”
Cuomo said he’s ready to declare an emergency that could result in an independent monitor to circumvent NYCHA’s slow-moving bureaucracy and speed up repairs of decrepit conditions in the authority’s 178,000 apartments.
And he announced State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker — who surveyed several Jackson Houses apartments Monday — will open an investigation into conditions across NYCHA.
The apartment he visited was both alarming in its squalor but by no means an anomaly for the troubled agency.
Tenant Jeffrey Blyther, 42, greeted the governor sitting in his motorized wheelchair in the kitchen. As Cuomo opened one cabinet after another, roaches scattered across boxes and cans of food.
Blyther said repeat visits by the exterminator do nothing, and at times the NYCHA worker who showed up when he sought help was not licensed to do the job.
“Anything to help the situation. I know I’m not the only person in New York City dealing with this but when is it going to change?” Blyther asked.
In a bathroom, the governor shook his head as he looked at paint peeling off every wall and dropping in chips off the ceiling on to the floor. Blyther’s 14-month-old grandson, Jessie, is at an age when he crawls on floors where these paint chips fall.
“Look at all these cockroach eggs,” Cuomo said, pointing below the sink. “This is unbelievable. The ceiling is collapsing and it’s infested with cockroaches everywhere.”
“It’s much worse than anyone would even imagine,” he said.
Thousands of NYCHA apartments have lead paint, and the authority has recently admitted it failed to properly inspect and abate this toxic substance for years.
Outside at a press conference in the Jackson Houses playground, Cuomo said he’s ready to seek an emergency declaration from the legislature that could involve the appointment of a monitor to oversee NYCHA’s fixup.
“This is an emergency and we have to fix it and we have to fix it fast,” he said. “No more bureaucratic nonsense.”
Though his presence at the Jackson Houses came as de Blasio was in Austin, Texas and en route to Washington, D.C., the governor only indirectly took a swipe at the mayor.
De Blasio has been widely criticized for announcing a $200 million fixup of NYCHA boilers that he said couldn’t start until July and wouldn’t be finished for at least three years.
“You can’t tell the tenants of the New York City Housing Authority I’m going to replace your boiler in three years,” Cuomo said.
City Councilmember Ritchie Torres, D- Bronx, was less diplomatic, stating flatly, “As you know our mayor is out of town. But the mayor has been out of town when it comes to the management of public housing.”
The governor said he’s meeting with City Council leadership Tuesday to get them to spell out specifically what they want the state to do.
“I want a decision in two weeks or I’ll make the decision myself,” he said. “This should take weeks, not months.”