All Sarah Ludwig needed from the city’s housing agency were some building evaluation sheets. She had no idea they’d treat her like she’d asked for J. Edgar Hoover’s dress size.
After a month of haggling with records access officers, Ludwig, executive director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, was summoned to the offices of the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development near the Brooklyn Bridge last fall. Once there, she was given a “sample” of what the agency intended to show her.
“The guy sat me in a very comfortable conference room, then went into his office and started cutting,” Ludwig recalls. “When he came back all of the important information was excised.” The results resemble a cross between redacted passages from the Pentagon Papers and a kindergarten origami experi-ment run amok.
“Then we started to argue like third graders in the playground,” she says. The official maintained he had the right to cut the information out because it represented the “subjective” judgments of the inspectors.
The sheets, created by neighborhood groups who inspected and evaluated buildings for HPD in preparation for the city’s massive sale of property tax liens, are intelligence reports on the conditions of low-income apartment buildings, documenting the condition of doors, plaster and paint, elevators, the cleanliness of lobbies, even the presence of rats and “other vermin.”
Housing groups want the information to make sure distressed buildings are not being included in the tax lien sale and to identify buildings on the verge of abandonment by their owners. NEDAP is contemplating suing HPD for lack of disclosure, Ludwig says.
HPD’s press office did not return phone inquiries.