In the chaotic days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) general manager Cecil House sent out a memo ordering staffers not to speak to elected officials or members of the press. According to the New York Daily News, the memo went out on Nov. 2, after the storm had knocked out power, heat and hot water to some 80,000 residents in 400 buildings.
“If approached by an Elected Official: Please do not provide information,” wrote House to 11,500 employees. He ordered the workers to refer questions from politicians or the press to the Housing Authority’s “intergovernmental team.”
Critics charge that the agency has moved too slowly in the wake of the storm, which struck on October 29. An estimated 7,000 residents of the city’s housing projects are still without basic services. Some workers and local politicians are furious.
“It leaves you totally speechless,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio told the NYDN. “We’re in the middle of a humanitarian crisis and the Housing Authority is worried about its reputation.”
State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Brooklyn/Staten Island) said of the gag order, “Are they that worried about the rest of the world finding out just how bad their response was?”
New York City tenants are guaranteed breaks on their rent if landlords fail to provide utilities like heat and water. On Monday, NYCHA chairman John Rhea asked residents to pay their rent on time, and that their payments will be refunded in January in the form of what he called a “Christmas present.”
“He thinks he’s doing these people a favor,” said Savino, “but some of these people can’t get down the stairs to pay the rent.”
Rhea hired House for the $195,000-per-year position of NYCHA general manager in August.
[image via NYCHA Flickr Photostream]