Comptroller Stringer Audit: Nearly Three-Quarters of NYCHA Playgrounds in Unsatisfactory or Dangerous Condition, Creating Hazards for Thousands of Children
April 4, 2018
Stringer audit finds NYCHA filed bogus playground inspection reports while broken equipment endangered children
72 playgrounds in 52 different developments posed imminent danger
NYCHA failed to maintain 549 of its 788 playgrounds citywide, potentially putting thousands of children at risk
Stringer calls for NYCHA to immediately overhaul its inspection protocols and conduct a top-to-bottom review of all NYCHA playgrounds
Riis Houses playground, Office of the Comptroller
(New York, NY) — The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has failed to properly maintain hundreds of playgrounds Citywide, potentially putting tens of thousands of children living in its developments at risk, according to an audit released today by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. NYCHA’s playgrounds are meant to provide recreation opportunities and shared community space for NYCHA’s 400,000 residents and 100,000 children, but the Comptroller’s audit found that most of NYCHA’s playgrounds were in decrepit condition, with dozens potentially posing imminent danger to children.
In its ninth NYCHA audit since 2014, Comptroller Stringer’s office inspected all 788 NYCHA-maintained playgrounds—across 238 different NYCHA developments—and found that 549, or 70 percent, were plagued by unsatisfactory and often hazardous conditions, such as missing and broken play equipment, some with exposed jagged edges, and loose and damaged safety surfaces. Visibly hazardous conditions, which may have posed imminent danger to children, were found at 72 playgrounds in 52 different NYCHA developments. What’s more, the Comptroller’s Office uncovered that NYCHA’s own inspection reports for 25 sampled developments were either inaccurate, lacked the required supervisory review, or were missing altogether. Among the Comptroller’s Office’s findings:
Dangerous, Deteriorating and Decrepit Playground Conditions
- Visibly hazardous conditions, which may have posed imminent danger to children, were found at 72 playgrounds across 52 different NYCHA developments;
- 151 developments had a total of 352 playgrounds with damaged safety surfacing, such as mats and tiles that were loose, missing, warped or otherwise damaged;
- 97 developments had a total of 164 playgrounds with missing, bent, or broken play equipment;59 developments had a total of 149 playgrounds with broken or deteriorated benches; and
- 55 developments had a total of 79 playgrounds with clogged or inadequate water drainage.
At 25 NYCHA developments where Comptroller Stringer’s auditors found hazardous playground conditions, they also looked for NYCHA’s required monthly inspection reports covering a 17‑month period and found:
- 24 NYCHA developments (96 percent) failed to report any hazardous playground conditions in need of repair, despite the clearly visible hazards that the Comptroller’s auditors observed and photographed.
- 9 NYCHA developments (36 percent) filed more than a dozen inaccurate inspection reports within 2 months of the auditors’ inspections, omitting specific hazards the auditors identified.
- In one egregious case, one week after the Comptroller’s office informed NYCHA’s senior management of visibly hazardous damage to a bench, a play structure platform, and a spiral slide at the Throggs Neck Houses playground, the development filed an inspection report that inaccurately rated the condition of all three items as “good.” Four days later, the development filed a new inspection report that rated the spiral slide as “unsatisfactory” and stated that it had been removed but continued to rate the two other damaged items as “good.” Ultimately, NYCHA reported that all three damaged items were either removed, blocked off, or slated for repair.
- 12 NYCHA developments (48 percent) filed no inspection reports whatsoever.
- Overall, the 25 NYCHA developments filed only 124 (29 percent) of the required 425 monthly inspection reports.
- Of the 124 playground inspection reports NYCHA maintained on file, more than half had not been signed by a supervisor as required by NYCHA’s own standards.
- The only NYCHA development that noted any conditions in need of repair reported a single damaged slide on 22 consecutive inspection reports but failed to repair it until after the Comptroller’s auditors reported it and other playground damage to NYCHA’s senior management.
“As a parent, I’m shocked. As Comptroller, I’m outraged. Our kids face lead, mold, and broken heating inside their apartments. But when they walk outside, they have play spaces that should break adults’ hearts, because they put children in jeopardy. Jagged metal edges, broken slides, decrepit structures – this is what government is providing for our kids. All children – whether they live in public housing or in luxury condos – deserve to play in a safe space that encourages their growth. But right now, NYCHA is failing to inspect and repair their playgrounds, which means the Authority is sitting on a catastrophe waiting to happen. While NYCHA has many needs, children in public housing deserve more,” said Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “When children living in NYCHA buildings are put in danger right in front of their own homes, it’s a terrible message to send. Just when we should be helping kids achieve their dreams, NYCHA is making their play spaces a nightmare. That’s why I’m calling on NYCHA to conduct a top-to-bottom review of each playground it’s required to keep safe for our kids.”
Under NYCHA policy, the agency must maintain each development’s playgrounds and other exterior areas, including lawns, trees, parking spaces, paved areas, and fences. To ensure compliance with safety regulations, the agency requires inspection results to be entered into NYCHA’s electronic system for tracking maintenance and physical repair work.
Comptroller Stringer’s audit, however, shows NYCHA’s playground-maintenance is at best inconsistent and at worst demonstrates outright neglect of those community spaces that kids and families rely on for recreation.
The unsatisfactory and dangerous conditions Comptroller Stringer’s auditors found include the following:
Riis Houses playground located at 1115-1141 FDR Drive, Manhattan
Broken Spiral Climber with Sharp Edges
The Comptroller’s office notified senior NYCHA officials of the broken spiral climber at Riis Houses on June 23, 2017. On July 12, 2017, NYCHA informed the Comptroller’s Office that the damaged portion of the equipment had been secured with plywood and caution tape. Subsequently, NYCHA repaired and refurbished the equipment, as shown in the bottom photograph below.
Refurbished Spiral Climber
Broken Metal Slides with Sharp Edges
Jackson Houses playground, 285 East 156th Street, Bronx
On July 24, 2017, the Comptroller’s Office notified NYCHA officials of the dangerous broken metal slides reflected in the photographs below at the Jackson Houses playgrounds. On August 17, 2017, NYCHA informed the Comptroller’s Office that the damaged equipment was repaired.
Jackson Houses playground, 300 East 158th Street, Bronx
NYCHA Fails to Conduct Inspections and Document Work Orders While Issuing Inaccurate Inspection Reports, Putting Children at Risk
- NYCHA has inadequate controls over its playground inspection process and does not follow its own policies as outlined in NYCHA’s Standard Procedure, Administration of Development Grounds. As a result, NYCHA has no assurance that every NYCHA playground is inspected monthly, or that necessary maintenance and repairs are being performed on playground equipment;
- NYCHA does not utilize its electronic system for tracking maintenance and physical repair work to automatically schedule inspections or to record and follow-up on the results, which violates NYCHA’s own protocols;
- Without documentation of problems in NYCHA’s maintenance and repair system, there is no centrally-accessible written record of dangerous conditions, and no assurance that development staff follows up to correct problems and make improvements;
- As noted above, an in-depth investigation into a sample of 25 developments with hazardous playground conditions found that 12 of the 25 – or nearly half – did not maintain any inspection reports for their grounds and playgrounds;
- Of those 12 developments, NYCHA’s staff at 10 developments said that they did not keep inspection reports because they were unaware that doing so was required; and
- At two developments, according to the staff, the inspection reports reportedly were destroyed when the grounds shops where they were stored experienced flooding – a problem that would have been less serious had the Authority followed its own rules and kept electronic records of inspections.
In response to the alarming findings uncovered in the report, the Comptroller issued a series of recommendations, and is calling on NYCHA to immediately inspect all 788 playgrounds for which it is responsible, remedy all hazardous conditions, and overhaul its playground inspection regimen to ensure all reports are accurate and that all inspections are completed as required.