NEWBURGH – Senator James Skoufis (D-Woodbury), Chairman of the New York State Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, announced Friday that he has opened an investigation into housing conditions and code enforcement. His investigations unit is specifically examining the City of Newburgh, Town of Ramapo, City of Mount Vernon, and City of Albany.
Senator Skoufis said, “Every New Yorker deserves the right to rest easy knowing their home is structurally sound and that every first responder can safely and efficiently serve their community. This investigation looks to advance those goals. Our committee will expose slumlords in the four communities we’re examining and, just as importantly, identify best practices, determine areas where enforcement can be improved as well as recommend legislative and regulatory changes to create a safer New York State for our residents.”
Skoufis’ investigation began in early January and continues to gather documents and testimony in the four municipalities. To date, all four municipalities are cooperating with the investigation.
Senator Skoufis stood with Newburgh’s local elected officials and code enforcement officers as he announced the investigation. They highlighted the city’s efforts at 197 First Street, a property riddled with code violations, fire history, and police activity. They collectively expressed the need to update the state’s laws and building code to better deal with bad actors.
Chief Horton, the Assistant Fire Chief and Code Enforcement Officer in Newburgh said, “I thank Senator Skoufis and his team for opening this investigation. Anyone who enters these buildings and families who live in them are put in danger when building codes are not met. The goal of this investigation is to make first responders’ jobs safer and more efficient, and families’ homes safe, secure, and compliant. I look forward to supporting and helping Senator Skoufis’ efforts to accomplish this.”
Jonathan Jacobson, current Assemblyman and former Newburgh Councilman said, “When the building code is enforced, everyone benefits – neighborhoods are stabilized and property values are maintained or even increased. The state should support municipalities in this essential obligation.”
Cities like Newburgh are cash strapped and have difficulty keeping up with the volume of code inspections and Skoufis wants to know what the state might be able to do to assist communities tackle the problem.
“It is our hope that we will be able to compel better behavior and we will be able to compel new laws and new state code to make sure that tenants are safe and that landlords are held accountable,” Skoufis said.
But, Skoufis made it clear he is not looking to persecute landlords.
“The fundamental point here is that no one should be living in dangerous conditions. People have literally died because of building code violations in this city and throughout the state.
That is the kind of stuff that needs to stop. That’s what we are investigating. This isn’t a persecution of landlords,” he said.
Assistant Newburgh Fire Chief William Horton, said with 30 percent poverty, buildings that are nearly 70 percent non-owner occupied, housing stock that is over 120 years old, and a lack of resources at the local government level, it makes the city’s effort to crack down very difficult. “We alone can’t do it,” he said.
Skoufis noted that a hearing is being planned to gather public testimony from all relevant stakeholders. He also indicated a desire to request – if necessary, compel – testimony from slumlords in the four municipalities to answer for their housing conditions. The testimony is meant to gather legislative insight so the investigations committee can advance legislation, as needed.
This is the second investigation Skoufis has opened, the first being an examination of pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) practices. PBMs act as drug pricing middle-men and have come under significant scrutiny during this year’s budget negotiations since Skoufis launched the investigation in early January. A third, unannounced investigation is also underway.