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Justice Department Charges Highlights Need for NYCHA Reformation

Merlin Macdonald

The recent charges brought by the Justice Department against employees of the New York City Housing Authority for bribery underscore the oversight and critical need for a systemic overhaul.

In 2019, former New York City Mayor De Blasio prevented the federal government from taking over the management of the NYCHA, which instead created a deal that put NYCHA under federal monitoring. This allowed the federal government to oversee repairs with issues causing unsafe conditions with lead and mold.

NYCHA remained in need of approximately $78 billion in repairs.

The Justice Department explained that the widespread corruption was limited to staff and manager positions.

The revelation that corruption was widespread among staff and management positions indicated a disturbing normalization of unethical practices. The culture of corruption not only undermines the integrity of the NYCHA but also directly harms the residents it serves.

The residents who cry for repairs and safe living conditions depend on public housing as a form of affordable living, especially in the current rental market.

The lapse of company culture led to an unintentional blind eye, which allowed 70 employees to engage in small bribes that amounted to $2 million. This allowed building managers to be involved in contract bribery.

Due to the lack of oversight for expenditures under $10,000, building managers at the NYCHA were able to evade scrutiny until audits conducted by federal monitors exposed their misconduct.

The internal system set by the NYCHA, which exempts spending below $10,000 from detailed reporting, inadvertently facilitated this oversight and allowed questionable transactions to go unchecked during internal audits.

The investigation came to light after the audits the Inspector General of the Department of Housing and Urban Development carried out as part of the federal monitor.

The inability to uncover the bribery and implement measures to prevent such incidents traces back to upper management at NYCHA. The external audit that the federal monitor unearthed was the result of NYCHA’s failure to do their due diligence.

According to a Wharton Professor, N. Craig Smith, blaming the corporation as an emotionless entity blames something unable to correct itself. To avoid disrupting the ongoing operations of NYCHA, its best course of action would be to prosecute the people directly involved and pressure the executives for systemic change.

As of now, NYCHA has accepted the federal monitor’s plans of reformation. Although the idea that the widespread cause of corruption was caused by what New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams calls the “culture of bribery,” it is cause for concern if strict reforms to the system will stop small-scale bribery.

For genuine change to occur, NYCHA must adopt a holistic approach that addresses corruption’s symptoms and root causes. This includes implementing robust internal controls, fostering a culture of transparency and accountability and ensuring that employees at all levels are educated on the importance of ethical behavior.

Most importantly, there must be a clear and consistent enforcement of consequences for unethical actions to deter future misconduct.

The issues the NYCHA is facing are symptomatic of deeper organizational and cultural failings that require committed and multifaceted responses. By addressing these challenges head-on, NYCHA can hope to rebuild trust, restore its reputation and, most importantly, better serve the residents of NYC’s public housing.

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