NYCHA lost track of $13M worth of taxpayer-funded equipment

The city Housing Authority lost track of more than $13 million worth of taxpayer-funded tools, equipment, appliances and plumbing and electronic parts because of a disastrous inventory system.

Internal documents obtained by the Daily News revealed the staggering loss discovered after the authority spent more than two years counting what it had squirreled away in 5,000-plus storage rooms across NYCHA’s 328 developments.

“The old way of doing things at NYCHA that resulted in these losses was unacceptable — and shortchanged our residents and NYCHA’s bottom line,” said spokeswoman Jean Weinberg, who stressed that the tracking system is being overhauled.

In 2012, then-New York City Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea decided there were problems with the agency’s ability to keep track of its inventory and ordered a systemwide accounting.

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Truckload by truckload, NYCHA workers brought everything to five central warehouses to count box by box. There were tens of thousands of boxes containing everything from shower rods to toilet seats to pilot lights for stoves.

Managers at individual developments had bought these items over the years so they would have supplies on hand for a wide range of repairs.

If a tenant complained of a toilet that wouldn’t flush properly, workers could go to their storage room and find the correct part. All of this was supposed to be tracked meticulously by the Oracle computer system.

When the counting finally ended in October, NYCHA officials discovered a disturbing anomaly. Comparing what was actually in the boxes to what their inventory claimed was bought, the officials found about $13.5 million in what they labeled “change value.”

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Translation: items that can’t be accounted for.

Materials were missing just about everywhere. In two counting rooms at the Betances Houses in Mott Haven, the Bronx, about $4.9 million worth of items were MIA. At the warehouse for the Armstrong Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, it was $1.8 million up in smoke.

At a warehouse in Long Island City, Queens, it was about $3.1 million out the door, and in the Unity Plaza Houses in East New York, Brooklyn, it was roughly $3.5 million unaccounted for.

Grand total of taxpayer dollars that evaporated without a trace: $13,508,696.

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Where it all went, nobody knows for sure. Some of it might have been used but not marked down as used.

The gaping hole in the authority's inventory made clear that the computerized system it used for years was fatally flawed.

City Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), chairman of the Public Housing Committee, cited the Czech author Franz Kafka, who specialized in novels of bureaucratic absurdity, when reacting to the losses.

“Mismanaging time and resources is a luxury that NYCHA can no longer afford,” Torres said. “NYCHA must be held accountable for fully replacing the Kafkaesque system that it had in place for storing and tracking supplies. The reform of NYCHA will only come when those of us in elected office demand accountability.”

NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye is in the process of switching every development to a new electronic inventory tracking system that directly connects repair orders to a digital record of inventory. To date, the system is in place in 299 of 328 developments.

“The authority has made significant progress getting inventory in order,” NYCHA spokeswoman Weinberg said. “Our new electronic inventory tracking system is being rolled out to all of our developments to ensure this does not happen again.”

Last December, the Daily News exclusively reported that NYCHA sent $550,000 in unused supplies — including no-longer-usable plumbing supplies, appliance parts and other items — to landfills as part of a housecleaning operation.

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