Watch CBS News

Exclusive CBS2 Investigation: NYCHA Employee Claims Tenant Complaints Closed Out Without Being Completed

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - The New York City Housing Authority has been under scrutiny for severe conditions in it apartments.

CBS2 has learned that things may be even worse: NYCHA employees say they're being told to close out tenants' work orders without completing jobs.

Janelle Burrell spoke exclusively with one employee, who said he's speaking out on behalf of others afraid to come forward.

"It's a big cover up. It's a big, big cover up, they don't care," said the employee, who asked that CBS2 disguise his appearance and voice, for fear of retaliation.

The 18-year veteran of the agency told CBS2 exclusively about what he says has been his experience with NYCHA toward lower level workers.

"You get a lot of people who are trying to do the right thing, that are breaking their rears every day, not to see any progress, only to get pressured or belittled or threatened," he told Burrell. "Everybody's back is against the wall."

In recent months, NYCHA has been hit with countless reports highlighting the deplorable conditions in some apartments: Mold, lead paint, lack of heat and hot water, and what many describe as top-to-bottom mismanagement.

The employee tells CBS2 the burden felt by NYCHA's leaders to clean up their image is being passed onto its workers.

This past January, NYCHA finished the month with a backlog of more than 150,000 open work orders for issues reported by tenants.

In some of the projects, staffers say they are being pressured into fraudulently closing out those work orders.

Here's what's supposed to happen: When tenants call in complaints, they are given a scheduled date and time frame for when a worker is supposed to show up. But the employee tells CBS2 some supervisors are intentionally assigning these tickets to staffers several days in advance. When staffers show up days early at an apartment and no-one is home, the employee says he and his coworkers are told to close out the order as though the job has been completed.

"They're actually telling you to falsify work orders?" Burrell asked.

"Absolutely. They're telling you: If they're not home, close it out," the employee said.

"And what's their excuse?" Burrell asked.

"They just tell you, our counts are high, we've got to get them down," he said.

"So they're actually pressuring you to get their numbers down so that..." Burrell said.

"So that it looks in the public's eye or in City Hall's eye that they're managing their workload, when they're not," he said.

It's a claim backed up not only by other NYCHA staffers but by many NYCHA residents CBS2 spoke with as well.

"They're closing out tickets before finishing the job," NYCHA resident Ronald Topping said.

"They're not properly monitoring the tickets," NYCHA tenant Calvin Drumgo said.

For tenants who live in the NYCHA complexes, the burden being felt by NYCHA workers is being felt by them too, and in some cases, it's dire, Burrell reported.

"I don't want this to blow up on me," said Alice Holman.

Holman, 99, lives in a NYCHA apartment in Brooklyn. She tells Burrell she's been complaining about issues with her stove for years.

"You wait and you wait and you wait, sometimes you get, sometimes you don't," Holman said.

A few weeks ago, Holman's daughter, who also lives in the housing development, says the smell of gas was so overwhelming they called 911.

"The Fire Department came, Con Ed came, police came, everybody came, but she still has the same stove," said tenant Tena Rodriguez.

"Some of these instances are extreme: Infestation, mold, holes in the wall, leaks," the NYCHA employee told Burrell. "These are work orders that you are pressured to finish."

Burrell spoke with Cathy Pennington, NYCHA's executive vice president for operations.

"Our procedures and policies do not endorse or support what you're claiming," Pennington said.

"This particular employee that we spoke to tells us that they're actually pressured by their supervisor to close work orders before the work is complete and, in other cases, without having even stepped foot in these apartments," said Burrell.

"Well, that would be very concerning because that is absolutely not our practice, our procedure, or that is not how we train our staff," Pennington said.

Pennington admits the agency is overwhelmed, but denies that any supervisors have been directed or encouraged to order their subordinates to lie.

"We have a high demand to perform services. So yes, we are under pressure, but in no way does that mean we curtail how properly do the work," Pennington said.

Last month, for the first time ever, the Citywide Council of Presidents, a group of tenant leaders representing the nearly 400,000 tenants across NYCHA's 326 developments, filed a lawsuit in state supreme court, calling for an independent monitor for the agency.

"It is tiring to continue to fight for where we live," said NYCHA Tenant Association President Charlene Nimmons.

"If they can't fix the system, we will look to the courts to do their jobs," said tenants' attorney Jim Walden.

At Holman's apartment, when NYCHA maintenance workers found out CBS2 was there, they came and removed her stove, bringing her a replacement.

The attention was able to help Holman, but there are thousands like her still waiting.

The employee told Burrell he simply wants accountability.

"It's in my best interest for this agency to do well, so why wouldn't I want that?" he said. "If it takes this to do it, well then it takes this to do it."

Pennington said the agency randomly checks closed orders and there's a 97 percent satisfaction rate. But she says if tenants or workers see orders being falsified, they should report them to their regional manager or NYCHA's inspector general.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.