The Federal monitor charged with overseeing reforms at the Housing Authority in a Nov. 1 report praised the agency for its progress in eliminating its most-serious pest problems but worried that a change in work schedules meant to speed repairs actually had the opposite effect in some developments.
In his first report released this past July, Bart Schwartz wrote that NYCHA had little chance of meeting deadlines to eliminate unsafe and unsanitary conditions such as mold, pests and lead paint in part because it was severely understaffed. He also previously criticized the agency for not doing enough to determine which apartments had young children either living in or frequently visiting them.
Lagging on Lead Paint
In a just-published follow-up report, he stated that NYCHA has not made enough progress in addressing lead paint, which can have particularly serious health effects on children under 6. The agency certified at the end of July that it was not in compliance with lead-paint regulations.
The monitoring team also began to probe NYCHA’s use of no-bid contracts—which allowed vendors to be hired without going through the bidding process as long as the contracts were under $5,000—after receiving complaints of shoddy work.
But the report wasn’t entirely negative: Mr. Schwartz praised NYCHA for recently coming up with prospective methods to identify young children, and for coming very close to clearing its backlog of work orders related to rat-infested apartments and eliminating exterior rat burrows.
He also credited HA Chair Gregory Russ, who stepped into the role in August, for significantly increasing the pace of creating blueprints for how the agency will meet its deadlines, moving it a step closer to receiving $450 million in state aid to fund elevator and boiler replacements.
Repair Time Doubles
NYCHA has $32 billion in capital needs and had more than 319,000 open work orders in September, according to data on its website. Over the past year, the average number of days it took NYCHA to make repairs doubled, from 62 days to 127.
The report detailed how the lack of skilled-trades staff has made it difficult for NYCHA to perform speedy repairs, particularly mold remediation. NYCHA must address minor mold within a week of inspection, and more-serious mold issues within 15 days. But 43 percent of serious mold work-orders took longer than 15 days to close, according to the Federal monitor tasked with overseeing its elimination.
NYCHA’s Office of Mold Assessment and Remediation has estimated that the agency needs to hire at least 162 skilled-trades workers to tackle mold-related work orders alone, which accounted for 13 percent of repair requests. That would bring the number of staff to 867.
But the monitoring team noted that it wasn’t just because NYCHA was understaffed that it was falling behind on mold-related work orders—the implementation of alternative work schedules, which allows employees to work evenings and weekends, has also affected the agency’s progress.
NYCHA began rolling out those schedules in April in order to speed up repairs. Staff can choose to work four days a week from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., with weekend assignments every other week. Workers are paid a 20-percent differential for weekend hours worked within the 40-hour work week.
The extended shifts were first offered at 13 developments in Brooklyn and Manhattan, then expanded to 39 others by late June.
The monitor wrote that “development personnel uniformly criticize AWS,” and that staff have repeatedly complained to his office that the change has made it harder to assemble a full team, meaning that work is left undone.
The schedule changes have particularly caused challenges related to removing waste. Staffing levels during the alternative shifts have been “inadequate,” the report stated, highlighting one instance in which a development had 36 workers scheduled on a Monday but just nine on a Friday, with no Caretakers on hand to remove trash bags from the compactors in 18 buildings.
Schedules Out of Sync
Furthermore, the monitor indicated that there have been claims that staff scheduled during the earliest hours have been unable to work during the beginning of their shifts because no Supervisor was scheduled and they didn’t have access to equipment rooms.
Because of understaffing during the extended hours, absenteeism has shot up and staff members’ workloads have increased, the report noted. “As such, these early and late hours are failing to address the root of development waste issues in compactor rooms and building floors,” the monitor stated.
Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd, who represents more than 8,000 NYCHA workers, did not return calls for comment.
NYCHA spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio called AWS “a critical strategy for improving the cleanliness” of the public-housing system’s 325 developments.
“NYCHA is changing the culture of the workday and it will take time for employees to adjust. Already, developments are showing signs of improvement,” she said. “We are satisfied so far, there is more work to be done, but we are moving in the right direction.”
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