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HUD Appoints Former Manhattan Prosecutor As New Federal NYCHA Watchdog

The Gompers Houses, a NYCHA public housing development, as seen from the Williamsburg Bridge
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The Gompers Houses, a NYCHA public housing development, as seen from the Williamsburg Bridge Jim.henderson/Wikimedia Commons

Federal housing officials announced on Friday the appointment of a private investigator and former Manhattan prosecutor for the role of overseeing the New York City Housing Authority.

The appointment of Bart Schwartz, who was first reported as a candidate for the job last month, follows an agreement the city made last month with federal housing officials. One of the stipulations was that the federal government would install its own watchdog to oversee NYCHA, which federal prosecutors said had undergone years of mismanagement that exposed its residents to lead paint as well as other health hazards.

The press release said that Schwartz will "observe NYCHA's key operations, especially as they relate to lead safety, heat, pest control, and elevators" and submit quarterly reports to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office had led the investigation into NYCHA.

"I look forward to working to achieve living conditions for NYCHA residents that are decent, safe, and sanitary," Schwartz said in the statement. "The Agreement serves as a blueprint that sets out my duties and responsibilities for achieving those goals."

During the 1980s, Schwartz worked for former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York’s Southern District, when Giuliani headed the criminal prosecutions division. More recently, in 2016, he was tasked by Governor Cuomo to perform an internal review of a Buffalo economic incentive program after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office targeted the administration’s construction contracts for undisclosed conflicts of interest. Among those who were ultimately convicted were Joseph Percoco, Cuomo's former top aide and campaign manager, and Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute.

In a report to the state, Schwartz found a "sloppy process" and "systemic problems," according to a spokeswoman for the state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. “His reports clearly demonstrate why we need to tighten oversight over economic development spending and fix the weaknesses in the procurement process."

Schwartz earned more than $1 million for the contract with the state.

The newly appointed NYCHA watchdog also has a curious connection to Lenora Fulani, a controversial political activist who most recently has been involved in the opposition against NYCHA’s privatization efforts. Schwartz chairs a children’s theater group founded by Fulani, according to The City.

Fulani is among a group of organizers who are fighting the privatization of NYCHA, which involves handing of the day-to-day management of the 175,000 apartments to private companies as well as partnerships with private developers for infill projects on NYCHA properties. Both measures are intended to help NYCHA raise much needed money for capital repairs.

Reached by phone on Thursday, Schwartz declined to comment on the reports. Fulani did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"This isn’t just a fight for people being attacked," Fulani told Gothamst during a small protest at City Hall earlier this month. "It’s about what kind of city we want and how we want to live our lives."

In the press release, HUD said it was continuing to provide NYCHA with $1.5 billion this year or $28.8 million a week. Some have criticized the city's deal with HUD for failing to secure more federal funding for NYCHA repairs.

Schwartz is currently the chairman of Guidepost Solutions, a firm that works on security, investigation and compliance issues. His bio on the company’s website begins with the following detail, “Described by The New York Times as the person 'often sought out in…thorny situations'..."

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