Federal investigators have cited the New York City Housing Authority for mold, rodents and lead. Over Thanksgiving weekend, 25,000 residents went without heat and hot water — the latest in a string of mishaps caused by mismanagement and crumbling infrastructure.
Enter Lynne Patton, the longtime Trump family aide now in charge of the New York and New Jersey region of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In case the troubles plaguing the nation’s largest housing authority have slipped anyone’s attention, Patton is shining a spotlight on it by, well, moving into public housing. For just a month, she said. Beginning in January.
Patton told The Washington Post on Friday that HUD Secretary Ben Carson has personally endorsed her plan, which she said she conjured up last Sunday while sitting in her Trump Plaza apartment watching a movie (“Crazy Rich Asians”) with her boyfriend and her Shih Tzu, Winston (after Winston Churchill.) A New York Post headline on the plight of public housing residents blared from her coffee table.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks that this is no longer okay,” Patton said. “It was not okay for me to preside over the largest housing crisis in the nation from the warmth and comfort of my own safe and sanitary apartment while NYCHA residents continue to suffer the most inhumane conditions.”
She deemed the issues “nothing short of a humanitarian crisis” and blamed the housing authority for ineptitude and indifference to the conditions “suffered by hard working residents.”
PIX11 News first reported earlier this week that Patton was exploring the idea.
The housing authority declined to comment on Patton’s decision to move in. A spokeswoman pointed out that NYCHA is a federally funded agency that has faced billions of dollars in cuts, stymieing the agency’s ability to maintain and update its 2,400 buildings that together house a population the size of Miami.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised the housing authority $3.7 billion through 2027 to fix leaky roofs and failing boilers, but the city is under no obligation to fund public housing.
New York state legislators have appropriated $450 million over the last two budget cycles to fix the boilers and malfunctioning elevators, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has said he would not release the funds until a federal monitor is in place.
As for HUD, the federal agency responsible for funding NYCHA? Since 2001, it has cut $3 billion out of the housing authority’s capital and operating budgets.
And President Trump has proposed zeroing out the nation’s $1.92 billion housing capital fund and cutting the public housing operating budget by nearly 40 percent — moves which Congress has blocked.
Patton said Congress determines how much money public housing gets, pointing out that Trump ultimately signed off on a budget that gave NYCHA 51.2 percent more capital funding this year.
“This is the president’s home city,” she said. “It’s my job to make sure that he returns to a city better than he left it. And it’s up to me and Secretary Carson to make sure that NYCHA receives the resources it deserves.”
Patton said earlier this week that HUD is working with a federal court, New York state as well as the city to identify “significant and permanent reform.” Federal judge William H. Pauley III in the Southern District of New York in November rejected a settlement to overhaul the housing authority and has set a Dec. 14 deadline for the parties to submit a plan on how to proceed.
“Business as usual is officially over,” Patton declared.
Trump had named Patton the New York regional HUD administrator, a $160,000-a-year post, in 2017. Skeptics at the start of her tenure criticized her lack of housing expertise, but she told The Post last year that she is qualified for the job given her years of serving as liaison to the Trumps.
While she’s known for her flamboyant social media personality, drawing controversy with her public spats — “If I can take down Omarosa, we can fix NYCHA, right?” the New York Post reported Patton saying in August — several career HUD employees and public housing advocates say she has grown into her role, eagerly diving into affordable housing policy and the intricacies of the HUD inspection system.
“As Regional Administrator, I cannot continue to purport to understand, nor resolve, the daily plight of a NYCHA resident without experiencing it firsthand,” Patton said. “It is my intent to spend the entire month of January doing exactly that.”
She encouraged other public officials, including the mayor and governor, to follow her lead and “physically put themselves in the situation of a distressed resident.”
Patton said she expects a formal announcement of her plan in coming weeks to move in with a family already living in public housing, provided that HUD’s ethics and legal team agrees. She said HUD officials have expressed concerns about her safety, and that the agency is trying to flesh out security arrangements.
Some housing experts saw Patton’s move as a potentially savvy publicity stunt.
“There are obviously political benefits to shifting the conversation away from federal disinvestment and focusing on local management of federal housing projects,” said Nicholas Dagen Bloom, a New York Institute of Technology professor whose research focuses on urban affairs and housing policy.
Bloom said Patton’s move could push New York toward the national trend of privatizing public housing. (De Blasio already supports the private management of 60,000 public housing units in the next decade, while NYCHA retains ownership.)
“I never thought there’d be a HUD official who wanted to live in a NYCHA project, that’s for sure,” said Bloom, who has written a book about New York public housing. “Because HUD is quiet on most other aspects of NYCHA, we have to assume that this is how they are going to make policy — through media and personal dimensions. It’s reality TV.”