A leading City Council member asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare a state of emergency at New York City Housing Authority facilities.

"It is clear that NYCHA management and the city administration have handled this issue incompetently," Robert Cornegy Jr. of Brooklyn, who chairs the council's housing and buildings committee, told reporters on the steps of City Hall.

Cornegy, in a letter to Cuomo counsel Alphonso David, said a staff review of legal options reveals that a state of emergency declaration could enable expedited bidding and contracting with outside companies.

Robert Cornegy, a New York City Council member
"It is clear that NYCHA management and the city administration have handled this issue incompetently," said City Council member Robert Cornegy Jr. John McCarten / New York City Council

Problems at NYCHA, whose units house roughly 400,000 New Yorkers in 326 public housing developments, range from continued lack of heat at up to 80% of NYCHA units, even during cold snaps this winter, to a Department of Investigations report that accused the embattled agency and its chief executive, Shola Olatoye, of doctoring lead-paint statistics.

The authority's capital needs backlog runs upwards of $17 billion. Its latest physical needs assessment, which determines funding requests, is pending.

Federal funding levels pose an open question.

The council grilled Olatoye at an oversight hearing two weeks ago. Other concerns range from rodent infestation to broken boilers not replaced since Hurricane Sandy struck in October 2012.

According to Howard Cure, director of municipal bond research for Evercore Wealth Management, NYCHA and Health + Hospitals are two city units especially vulnerable to potential federal policy hits.

"We do know the federal government in its recent budget has divested a tremendous amount of funds that would be channeled to NYCHA," said Cornegy, whose district includes Bedford Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights, and is home to the Marcy Houses where lack-of-heat complaints have been widespread.

Corngey barely lost a bid for council speaker to Corey Johnson from Manhattan.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's capital plan includes an additional $200 million to NYCHA over four years to replace boilers and upgrade heating systems at the 20 most problematic developments. In addition, the city has earmarked $9 million in capital and nearly $4 million in expenses for rapid-response teams.

"That's nowhere near enough," said Cornegy. "We need our state partners to come in on this and invest as well."

Cornegy, speaking late in the morning, said Cuomo's office had yet to respond.

"We haven't heard from the governor's office as of yet," he said. "A letter, obviously was sent to his office to this effect."

State involvement would not mean a takeover, he added. "I think there's a partnership that's absolutely necessary. Listen, it's not a zero-sum game where one entity takes control and the other stays on the sidelines. This monster is so large that it will take a collaborative effort."

Cuomo declared a state of emergency last June for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state-run agency that operates the city's subways and buses. The MTA followed with an $836 million emergency improvement plan, full funding of which has generated bickering between de Blasio and Cuomo over who should pay.

Cornegy would not comment on whether the embattled Olatoye should resign. "I'm not here to discuss Shola," he said.

While NYCHA and H+H thave their own financial plans, the city has boosted its financial support of both agncies since fiscal 2014. The city waived some reimbursements and assumed the cost of collective bargaining increases and senior centers within NYCHA developments.

Nonprofit watchdog Citizens Budget Commission called on de Blasio to further strengthen NYCHA's finances.

"Declining federal operating subsidies, difficulties increasing rent and non-rent revenues, and high operating costs have caused NYCHA’s fiscal stress," said CBC.

"The city should support NYCHA's efforts to develop new revenue streams and have nonprofit tenants pay rent," said CBC. "Easing work rule restrictions in collective bargaining negotiations and lobbying the federal government to maintain public housing operating and capital subsidies would also stabilize the financial outlook."

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Paul Burton

Paul Burton

Paul Burton is the Northeast Regional Editor for The Bond Buyer and the author of the book "Tales from the Newsrooms." He is a sought-after public speaker and has appeared on radio and TV shows, including former CBS News White House correspondent Sharyl Attkisson’s public-affairs program, “Full Measure.”