Newly surfaced documents reveal damning details about the scale and scope of what NYCHA knew of its serious lead issues in housing units with kids — all while Mayor Bill de Blasio downplayed the health crisis.
Local Health Department inspectors found lead in 222 NYCHA apartments across 93 developments — more than a quarter of all complexes citywide — between 2010 and 2018, according to records that City Hall only produced after The Post sued it under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.
Experts have said there is a high likelihood of finding lead in other apartments in a building where it has already been discovered.
Yet NYCHA was able to avoid making any repairs to 158 of the 222 lead-tainted apartments thanks to appeals to the city DOH, the documents show.
“The evidence confirms what we’ve long suspected — that the de Blasio administration, the Health Department and the Housing Authority all systematically misled the public about the true extent of lead poisoning in public housing,” city Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-The Bronx), who grew up in NYCHA housing and chairs the body’s oversight committee, told The Post.
Torres said he will now demand hearings to ensure NYCHA is complying with lead-removal requirements set out in the previous deal it struck with federal prosecutors.
“The stakes are a matter of life and death — if a child is exposed to lead, the consequences will haunt the child for the rest of their lives,” Torres said. “We cannot take for granted that NYCHA is now following the law.”
Lead exposure — which is often linked to peeling paint — can cause lasting brain damage and delay mental development. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that any amount of lead can be dangerous to young children.
Among the 93 NYCHA developments where inspectors found lead after a child’s poisoning is the sprawling Jacob Riis Houses complex on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The city Health Department found lead in as many as five apartments in 2018. NYCHA contested every one of the resulting clean-up orders, and DOH officials OK’d the appeals — allowing the housing agency to skip remedial action.
In 2019, the case count grew when Yanira Alameda’s 7-year-old autistic son, Jordan Morales, tested positive for more than three times the allowable levels of lead in his blood.
Inspectors found 10 lead hot spots in the family’s apartment that Alameda believes “most definitely” helped make her son sicker.
“I’ve seen a couple of recent changes in Jordan,” the 39-year old mom and hotel receptionist recently told The Post. “His appetite is gone, his attention span is mostly gone.”
The boy also “has been having extreme tantrums,’’ his mom said.
NYCHA claims it fixed the lead in the family’s apartment in September 2019, but the scandal-rocked agency has yet to produce the paperwork to prove the repairs were made properly despite Alameda’s repeated requests.
Alameda intends to sue over the lead.
As previously reported, a bombshell 2017 city Department of Investigation probe had blasted NYCHA for falsely certifying to the feds that it was keeping up with mandated lead inspections.
Yet days later, de Blasio was still publicly downplaying the crisis.
“It’s important to recognize, as troubling as this story is, that when you dig into the facts, thank God there is less here than appears,’’ the mayor said.
“Thank God there has not been harm done to any child because of the mistakes that were made.’’
In April 2018, Hizzoner continued his denials there was a major problem afoot.
“I would urge you to look at the facts more,’’ he told reporters at a press conference atop the Queensbridge Houses. “Enough is being done because every apartment that we know of has been not only inspected but remediated, and then that will happen every single year.”
Two months later, federal prosecutors picked up with the DOI left off and alleged in a damning lawsuit that city officials had repeatedly understated the scope of the lead crisis at NYCHA.
The feds accused NYCHA of undertaking a systematic coverup of crumbling conditions in public housing — a pattern now laid bare in the records obtained by The Post.
According to the documents, city Health Department inspectors ordered the clean-up of 10 apartments in The Bronx’s Patterson Houses over the eight-year period, the highest number for any public-housing development.
The Van Dyke Houses in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood were slapped with orders to clean up eight apartments after a child tested positive for dangerous levels of lead.
The Bronx’s Edenwald Houses and Harlem’s Lincoln Houses each received six clean-up orders after a case of lead poisoning.
Experts say the numbers suggest this is only the tip of the iceberg.
“One poisoning could be a random event,” said Matt Chachere, a lawyer with the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation who helped draft the city’s current lead laws.
“But multiple poisonings in multiple apartments in a complex can only be indicative that there is a problem with the maintenance and monitoring practices of the management of that complex.”
“Any of those should have triggered a wholesale testing and inspection of the apartments with children in those complexes,’’ he said.
“A competent landlord does not allow children to become poisoned and potentially brain-damaged.”
Each clean-up mandate was triggered by a blood test that showed a child living in the home was poisoned by the toxic substance.
The mandates — officially known as a city DOH Commissioner’s Order to Abate — directed NYCHA to repair or replace peeling lead paint or other lead-contaminated items found by the Health Department.
The number of DOH clean-up orders for lead in NYCHA housing currently stands at 293.
NYCHA filed contestations — a little-known bureaucratic process — to challenge the Health Department’s findings in 211 of the 222 apartments discovered with problems between 2010 and 2018, according to the records.
Health Department officials ended up overruling their own inspectors and allowed the cash-strapped NYCHA to avoid making any repairs in the overwhelming majority.
Public-health advocates have assailed the DOH’s decision to accept the contestations, calling it an abdication of responsibility.
A 2019 investigation by The Post revealed that 34 apartments were so badly contaminated that the Health Department should have automatically blocked NYCHA’s contestation — and its failure to do so left lead-poisoned kids in unrepaired units.
At the time, De Blasio promised to fix what he called a “never-again situation.”
City Hall spokeswoman Avery Cohen, responding to a request for comment about the newly surfaced documents, told The Post in an e-mail, “The only acceptable number of children exposed to lead in New York City is zero.
“Our efforts are working: Under this administration, the number of children with elevated lead blood levels in public and private housing is at historic lows, with a 54 percent overall decline since the Mayor took office,’’ Cohen added.
Additional reporting by Sam Raskin and Aaron Feis
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