Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, whose position has been assaulted on numerous occasions by the mayor among others, proved the value of his position this week with the release of a frighteningly illuminating report on unaddressed building violations throughout the borough, violations that not only could be costing the city millions but may be associated with multiple tragic building collapses over the past several years.
The report, titled “Falling Apart at the Seams”, cites six notable collapses since 2007, many of which made the news at the time they occurred, that might have been avoided with more effective oversight and enforcement of existing code violations. The report is based on a survey of just shy of 42,000 lots throughout Manhattan conducted over a 34 day period in the fall of 2009. The survey discovered about 177,500 violations of Department of Buildings (DOB) regulations, and 45,500 violations of the Environmental Control Board (ECB).
Even more shocking than the numbers are the number of serious violations, as well as where these violations were found. Of all the violations, a full third were classified either as Class 1 or “Hazardous” code violations, which in the words of the report “severely affects life, health, safety, property, public interest or persons so as to warrant immediate corrective action.”
About 63% of buildings surveyed had one or more DOB violation, while around 32% of those surveyed had one or more ECB violations. While only the DOB can issue both DOB and ECB summons, other agencies can issue ECB summons, and those were not accounted for in this report; which, in all likelihood, means there are other outstanding ECB violations that are costing the city money and endangering residents and workers. 83% of public schools and hospitals have open ECB violations.
The average time that the violations identified in the survey remain open was five years. The unpaid fines are costing New York City an estimated $60 million from Manhattan alone, enough to fund NYPD cadet classes and student Metro Cards from the MTA, among other programs, according to the MBPO report. The report also formulated an eight-point plan to address the systemic problem, which address the unpaid violations to institutional weaknesses in monitoring and enforcing current fines.
The DOB handles procedural matters such as permits and paperwork along with other duties, while the ECB actually physically inspects sites. The report notes that the DOB has difficulty at times gaining access to smaller buildings, which makes verification of violations hard without a warrant, which often requires more time and effort than the DOB is willing to dedicate to smaller, unconfirmed violations.
Of the violations rediscovered by the survey, only 7.3% had not been addressed yet in court, meaning the remainder were violations already proven by the state. Some of the most frightening violations occurred at the building that houses Kipp’s Infinity Charter School and STAR College Prep as well the Roberto Clemente Intermediate School, where structural cracking was discovered throughout the building; the School of the Future on 22nd Street, where a structural beam was found to have a six-foot long serious crack; Frederick Douglass Academy and PS200 on 148th Street, where multiple supports had pulled two or more inches away from their housing and expansion joints were found to be moving out of place; PS290 on 82nd Street, where a full wall-length crack 1/2″ wide was discovered; and a faulty elevator with rusted cables was discovered in Chelsea Career & Tech High Schools and the NYC iSchool. The Kipps’ building was found to have 44 open violations; of those, 15 were listed as “serious” to the point of being dangerous.
The report points out that many of these problems are not new. The solutions, therefore, need to address not only repair but rethinking a system in which inefficiency, incompetence, corruption, and interference combine to make these outstanding violations possible. The report’s recommendations include decreasing the responsibilities of the DOB and establishing an independent inspection authority, increasing the use of modern technology to verify, document, and communicate violations as they are discovered, create greater ECB transparency to remove outside influences that slow the execution of its mandate, the use of federal funding to enact repairs, and reduce late penalties and interest so fines can be paid in a more timely manner.
While Stringer is not without critics, he has an accomplished record on working for the betterment of health and safety in Manhattan, and has been commended for some of his “green” initiatives to improve environmental conditions in the city. He has also made public health a priority; in the mission statement section of his webpage, he lists asthma and lead poisoning as among Manhattan’s top five public health concerns, along with HIV/AIDS, children’s health clinics, and public health insurance.
The report issued by Stringer’s office, and the press release of the report, can be viewed here.
For Stringer’s take on the importance of his office and accomplishments, check out an interview here.