During yesterday's press conference at the Wagner Housing Community Center—chosen, in part, because it’s one of the only NYCHA community centers with air conditioning—Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that an additional $87 million added to his (now) $210.5 million citywide plan to make public housing developments safer. "This is happening literally right now," de Blasio said. "It started happening yesterday."

The mayor’s proposal specifically targets 15 NYCHA developments that account for nearly 20 percent of all violent crime in the city’s 334 public housing complexes. The Boulevard Houses, where 6-year-old PJ Avitto was fatally stabbed earlier this year, are included, as are Brownsville, Bushwick, Butler, Castle Hill, Ingersoll, Patterson, Polo Grounds, Queensbridge, Red Hook, St. Nicholas, Stapleton, Tompkins, Van Dyke, and, of course, Wagner.

“We take responsibility for NYCHA at City Hall,” de Blasio said. “It’s something that’s been a hallmark of this administration.” The money will be distributed as follows:

  • $122 million of City funds to relieve NYCHA of other obligations, so that money can be used for repairs and maintenance
  • $50 million for physical improvements to enhance security
  • $1.5 million for exterior lighting at the 15 developments
  • $21.4 million for the civilianization of 200 police officers
  • $15.6 million to expand key programs to help build stronger individuals, families and communities.

A few weeks ago, 17 public housing tenants sued NYCHA on the behalf of the DeWitt Clinton Houses, claiming that repairs they’d requested long ago had still not been attended to. It’s the same story for many NYCHA residents: the money that was allocated for repairs and security as far back as 2008 has yet to be used in any real way. An estimated 400,000 people reside in New York City public housing.

In June the city finally began installing security cameras at the Boulevard Houses and five other residences. According to Mayor's office, “the city was able to expedite the review and approval of 46 contracts for cameras at 49 developments before the end of 2014.”

Today the mayor emphasized that cameras won’t be able to stop crime all on their own. Instead, NYCHA plans to install 150 temporary safe lighting towers (When? “Right now.”) with the goal of long-term permanent lighting.

“We’re also removing all the sidewalk sheds, all that scaffolding, that unfortunately makes it easier for the criminal element.” De Blasio added, calling this particular undertaking his “obsession." Doors and locks will also get long-overdue maintenance.

To create more options for the 18,000 kids who live in NYCHA houses, de Blasio announced that community centers would remain open until at least 11 p.m., providing young people a “positive, safe place to go.” 800 youth jobs will also be added over the summer, giving teens the opportunity to make money and, hopefully, stay out of trouble.

“It’s all out there around us,” de Blasio warned. “Every one of us who’s a parent, we know, particularly in modern society, the internet world, et cetera, there’s lots of challenges, lots of negatives are out there surrounding our young people."

Police presence will also be increased in the selected projects. Out of 600 graduates of the Police Academy’s Class of 2014, 101 have been assigned to the housing authority. Ultimately, de Blasio promises an additional 700 cops to bolster 2,000 currently on patrol.

"We want to hire 200 civilians to replace 200 police officers that are doing desk duties throughout the department. As these hires are conducted throughout Fiscal Year '15, these officers will then be transferred to the housing bureau until we achieve 200 net officers," Chief of Housing Carlos M. Gomez said. “This takes months...Until that is accomplished, the equivalent of 200 officers per week is being funded with overtime.”

Another new part of de Blasio's plan is an increase in public outreach: cops will now be making follow-up visits with domestic violence victims, who are the most common victims of violent crime in public housing. And residents will be given "satisfaction surveys" in an attempt to track the improvements' impact.

“What’s really different is that we’re working together with the community,” Chief Gomez said. “The community is our partner. With the partner-officer program, members of the clergy and local residents will be walking alongside these officers, introducing them to other members of the community, keeping them informed and apprised of any crime issues or other concerns that warrant our attention.”

When asked about kids breaking the safe lighting towers, Officer Gomez replied that CCTV cameras have caught many of the mischief-makers in the act, so they can be identified and arrested. Of course, that just goes back to the problem of most of NYCHA not having working cameras at all.

But when asked about the legacy of delays and red tape for the cameras and other NYCHA improvements, de Blasio replied, “There’s an unfortunate history. We have to be clear that it begins with Washington over 20 or 30 years, abandoning a lot of its commitment to affordable housing. But that doesn’t allow us to turn away, we have to focus, we have to make this a priority…We’ve been handed a situation that isn’t what is should have been.”