NYC Buildings Department Has Some Explaining to Do

The day after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly revealed his disappointment with the city’s Department of Buildings, pointing to the high number of construction accidents that have occurred this year, Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster has tendered her resignation–and the Mayor has accepted it, without assigning blame. In a prepared statement, Bloomberg praised Lancaster for revamping the department during her six-year tenure, noting her success in fighting corruption, improving inspections, and revamping the building code. While the agency has come a long way, given the 13 construction-related deaths since January, it appears it has not come far enough. “There has been twice as much construction so we need twice as many people in the department to make sure there aren’t so many violations,” New York City real estate expert Nora Gross told CPN today. ” The Building Department’s failures, however, are not a result of any deliberate mismanagement on Lancaster’s part, Gross remarked. “By all accounts she has modernized the department after inheriting an agency that had fallen apart under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani,” she said. “The mistakes don’t appear to be intentional, but when you have a class full of high-schoolers grading their own SATs, they’re all going to get 1600. It’s not just that things fall through the cracks, it’s that the cracks seem to be wider than they should be.” Gross pointed out another flaw in the department’s system. “Developers are scrambling to create luxury housing, but none of that is happing for affordable housing,” she said, adding that low-income units are sometimes added to certain projects as an afterthought, just to meet particular requirements that were not enforced before construction got underway. “Affordable housing should never be an afterthought, especially in a city like New York, because of its economic diversity.” Problems within the department, however, are not irreparable, according to Gross. “There is a need for stronger legal teams and more inspectors,” Gross said. “The department needs to be introspective and start to improve whatever is necessary to make it work. The Buildings Department should be our first line of defense against violations. It should make sure the environment is safe for workers, and therefore ultimately safe for occupants.”