Audit Report on the New York City Housing Authority’s Maintenance and Inspection of Its Playgrounds
April 4, 2018 | SR17-127A
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is the largest public housing authority in North America, with more than 400,000 New Yorkers residing in its 326 developments across the City’s five boroughs. Playgrounds exist at the majority of NYCHA developments and are important assets for NYCHA’s residents, particularly the children. As NYCHA has stated, “[v]ibrant play-spaces are central to creating connected public housing communities––and all children deserve a space where they can explore, learn, and thrive with one another.”
We inspected all 788 playgrounds that NYCHA maintains at 238 developments. NYCHA’s Standard Procedure, Administration of Development Grounds, provides uniform, detailed instructions and procedures for each development’s grounds-keeping staff to utilize when conducting monthly inspections of the grounds, including its playgrounds. These instructions include requirements for entering the results of their inspections into “Maximo,” the asset and work management software system used by NYCHA to manage the maintenance and repair of its physical assets.
Within NYCHA, playground maintenance is primarily the responsibility of each development’s grounds-keeping staff, under the overall direction of a development-based Superintendent. The Superintendent is responsible for supervising its grounds-keeping activities, which includes entering grounds inspection and playground results in Maximo. Supervising Housing Groundskeepers (SHGs) at each development are responsible for directly implementing grounds plans, and monitoring grounds operations. Specifically, the SHGs are supposed to (1) conduct daily inspections of the grounds, including playgrounds; and (2) complete a detailed monthly Grounds and Playground Inspection Report, also known as an Inspection Work Order, in the Maximo system. At the same time, each development’s Housing Manager has overall responsibility for all development operations, which includes inspecting the grounds and related facilities on a regular basis.
In addition to this development-based staff, two NYCHA departments, NextGeneration Operations (NGO) and Property Management, are responsible for overseeing property-management functions at the NYCHA properties under their respective jurisdictions. Regional Asset Managers from each of those two departments are responsible for providing comprehensive management of NYCHA properties and focus on maintenance and upkeep of all buildings, environmental systems, grounds, and fiscal administration.
Audit Findings and Conclusions
Our audit found that NYCHA does not have adequate controls over playground inspections and does not ensure that its playgrounds are maintained in a clean and safe manner. Specifically, our inspections of all 788 NYCHA-maintained playgrounds—located in 238 NYCHA developments— found unsatisfactory conditions in 549 (70 percent) of the playgrounds. We found numerous playgrounds with substandard and visibly hazardous conditions, including missing and broken play equipment (some with exposed jagged edges), loose and deteriorated safety surfacing, tripping hazards, debris, erosion, and unkempt vegetation.
We also conducted follow-up visits of developments with substandard and hazardous playground conditions and found that almost half of those developments had not prepared or retained mandated monthly inspection reports. In those cases where inspection reports were available, we found that the reports did not consistently reflect the conditions we found during our inspections of the playgrounds. Additionally, each inspection report is required to be signed by both (1) the NYCHA staff member who performed the inspection; and (2) either the Superintendent or the Housing Manager. However, we found numerous reports that were missing the reviewers’ signatures. Further, we found that NYCHA’s development staff are not recording the results of their monthly inspections of the grounds and playgrounds in Maximo, as required by NYCHA’s written procedures, a significant omission that deprives NYCHA of a reliable, current, and easily accessible record of the condition of all of its playgrounds.
While we found deficiencies in the majority of NYCHA’s playgrounds, we also found that 30 percent of them—239 playgrounds—were in good or satisfactory condition at the times of our inspections, with no observed deficiencies. Those playgrounds reflect that a significant number of NYCHA developments provide their residents with safe, pleasant outdoor play areas for their children’s enjoyment. However, that was not the prevailing condition we found in most of NYCHA’s playgrounds.
This audit made the following nine recommendations that:
1. NYCHA should immediately inspect all 788 playgrounds for which it is responsible and remedy any hazardous conditions noted.
2. NYCHA should make every playground it manages fully operational as quickly as possible, within a reasonable time frame. In so doing the agency should determine whether damaged and deteriorated playground equipment should be repaired or replaced, whether any of it is under warranty, and whether repairs should be performed by development staff or vendors.
3. NYCHA should take immediate steps to implement an effective management oversight scheme to ensure that development grounds and playgrounds are all being inspected monthly in accordance with NYCHA’s written procedures.
4. NYCHA’s senior management should evaluate and address the causes of the failures that allowed substandard and in some cases hazardous conditions in 549 NYCHA playgrounds to go unaddressed, including, where applicable, failures to conduct, review, sign-off, retain, and follow-up on required inspections and inspection reports.
5. NYCHA, through its senior management, should enforce agency policy that requires development staff to utilize the agency’s Maximo system to automatically schedule monthly grounds and playground inspections and use handheld devices to document the inspection results in the system.
6. In instances where handheld devices are not available, NYCHA, through its senior management, should enforce agency policy that requires development staff to manually enter playground-inspection results in the Maximo system and maintain hard copies of the completed inspection reports, with required signatures of the preparer and reviewer, in the Superintendent’s office.
7. Development staff should ensure that work orders are created and tracked in Maximo to enable all deficiencies in their playgrounds to be appropriately remedied.
8. NYCHA’s NextGeneration Operations and Property Management departments should ensure that development-based Housing Managers and Superintendents:
a. require their staffs to perform thorough monthly inspections and report all deficiencies in accordance with NYCHA’s standards;
b. conduct and document the results of subsequent inspections to confirm the accuracy of the staffs’ findings on inspection reports; and
c. sign every monthly inspection report and enforce NYCHA policies requiring the retention of such inspection reports.
9. NYCHA’s NextGeneration Operations and Property Management departments should:
a. randomly and continuously inspect NYCHA playgrounds, ensuring that such inspections cover all playgrounds throughout the agency’s developments not less than annually;
b. inform the responsible development managers and supervisors of any unacceptable conditions that require immediate attention; and
c. follow up to ensure that all such conditions are remedied.
In its response, NYCHA generally agreed with all of the recommendations. However, it disagreed in part with one recommendation that it ensure that development-based Housing Managers and Superintendents conduct and document the results of inspections to confirm the accuracy of the findings contained in routinely filed inspection reports. NYCHA stated that it “is committed to providing safe, clean, and connected communities for everyone who lives in public housing. NYCHA has taken steps since the initial audit findings to address the hazardous conditions found at its playgrounds.”