With 8,000 New York City Housing Authority workers in our ranks – a third of whom are also NYCHA residents – we at Local 237 take the safety of this city’s public housing developments very seriously. Last month an incident occurred in the Pink Houses of East New York, ending another young life, and bringing into question again the safety of our public housing developments. Due to an improperly lit stairwell and a fatal misunderstanding, 28-year-old Akai Gurley was shot dead by an NYPD officer patrolling the housing unit. Unfortunately, this shooting is just one of many in New York’s public housing developments. While crime statistics have dropped citywide, shootings in public housing developments have gone up by 31 percent. NYCHA workers and residents deserve to be safe.
Our union has long advocated for increased safety measures in NYCHA developments, such as the funding and installation of security cameras and the recently enacted legislation that increased the penalty for assaulting NYCHA workers. Apart from the tragic, unnecessary loss of life, there are two areas of this persistent problem of safety in NYCHA housing that require immediate attention: inadequate light and policing practices.
Poor lighting is a well-documented issue in NYCHA developments. In fact, a few months prior to this most recent incident, a superintendent at the Pink Houses put in a request for an upgrade to the facility’s lighting system. Sadly, as is too often the case, the reported issue went unresolved and, as a result, a life was lost. We must take a deep look at the practices and procedures NYCHA has in place to deal with such requests so that we can improve the physical environment of these developments as soon as possible. I commend the outspokenness of our elected officials on this front, such as Councilman Ritchie Torres of the Bronx, who has demanded NYCHA turn over all records from the past year related to lighting conditions at the Pink Houses.
The policing of NYCHA developments also needs to be addressed. We have to improve our protection of NYCHA workers and residents. We must achieve a more open and free-flowing dialogue with the NYPD. We have to hire more police from these communities, people who know these developments because they grew up there. We need to do a better job of recruiting people of color to join the police force. There needs to be a level of trust between the police and people living in NYCHA housing. Policing these developments with people who are familiar with the neighborhoods and care about keeping them safe is what will ultimately make the difference.
Fortunately some work is already underway to address these issues. This July the city announced a comprehensive plan to make our neighborhoods safer and reduce violent crime in NYCHA developments. The city’s $210.5 million plan includes $50 million for physical improvements to enhance security, including security lights, camera installation, and the installation of layered access and new doors in the 15 highest-need developments. The NYPD will re-allocate resources and deploy more than 700 additional officers to the precincts and NYCHA’s highest-need developments. Another $1.5 million is being invested to mobilize 150 light towers from NYPD, NYCHA and the Department of Parks and Recreation for exterior perimeter security lighting. While a step in the right direction, we need to ensure we find a longer term solution to the issue of exterior security lighting, hire more police officers – including more people of color – from these communities and find ways to bolster the safety of all NYCHA facilities.
The unsafe trend permeating NYCHA housing developments must be of paramount concern, not only to NYCHA residents, but to all New Yorkers. We must begin to look critically at the safety issues facing our public housing developments and address them in a way that will create a consistently safer and livable environment. There is plenty of work to be done to ensure NYCHA workers and residents are safe in all the developments, but it will require us to work together to find the most enduring solutions.