Lynne Patton has been schlepping an air mattress to the apartments of various New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents since mid-February. A surly character, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regional administrator for the Northeast region initially took a media drubbing for her role as Eric Trump’s wedding planner. One of Trump’s few African-American appointees, Patton is also known for her official HUD Twitter account, an endless fusillade of MAGA spew, where she regularly vomits forth expletive-laden rants in praise of Trump and his wall, and bashes Democrats, the media and haters in general.
Patton has said she got the idea for her NYCHA excursion while watching Crazy Rich Asians in her Westchester Trump Plaza apartment with her pet shih tzu. The purpose of the month-long tour is, presumably, to gather information to present to incoming federal NYCHA monitor Bert Schwartz. So far, it reeks of disaster porn — Patton vacillates between referring to residents’ “shithole apartments” and sobbing over a hole in a bathroom wall.
Before her stay began, Patton established a narrative of alternative facts. She started with the claim that one million residents reside in NYCHA housing, a made-up figure that doubles the largest estimates. She then set to debunking (with zero evidence) the widely accepted figure of $32 billion needed to repair NYCHA facilities. Patton claims the $32 billion figure is vastly inflated and is only due to the cost of union labor. NYCHA’s unionized workforce is likely to be a main target of Patton’s report to the incoming federal monitor.
NYCHA residents who have dared to question Patton have been publicly berated at town hall meetings.
In keeping with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Patton insists NYCHA does not need and will not get additional funding. The problem, she claims, is mismanagement, not money. It’s a trope she repeats in her regular appearances on Fox and Friends and on Twitter, where she insists Bill de Blasio is personally mismanaging the NYCHA budget. Speaking with the Wall Street Journal recently, Patton likened concerns over chronic disinvestment in NYCHA to “grievances by a 15-year-old who, 10 years later, is still complaining about an allowance cut at age 5.”
The focus on financial mismanagement seems odd, given Sec. Carson’s propensity for $31,000 dining sets or the shady practices of Patton’s former employer, the Eric Trump Foundation — currently under investigation by the New York State Attorney General for its financial dealings. And lest anyone buy into Patton’s “honest reformer” image, it’s worth noting that government transparency group American Oversight obtained records revealing Patton has discussed Trump Hotel business with a developer while in her HUD post on at least one occasion.
Without the necessary funding, no real improvements will come to NYCHA residents. Trump’s 2019 budget proposed $8.8 billion in cuts to HUD. Sec. Carson, who has claimed poverty is largely “a state of mind,” recently called for increased privatization of public housing.
NYCHA has scrambled to make repairs in the buildings Patton is visiting, and some desperate residents are pointing to her visit as the only way they have been able to get badly needed work done. Other NYCHA residents who have dared to question Patton have been publicly berated at town hall meetings.
At one point last month, Patton took a brief furlough from slumming it as she and Frederick Douglass Houses residents’ association president Carmen Quinones traveled to the White House’s Black History Month fête in Washington. Local New York television news touted the “successful” meeting between Quinones, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Quinones remarked that she was impressed with Pence, and that Melania Trump was interested in visiting NYCHA. Whether she will wear her “I don’t care, do you?” jacket is still unknown.
The whole thing brings to mind a reality show, with the half-million NYCHA residents as backdrops to Patton’s careerist stunt. Perhaps the defining moment of Patton’s visit came when she, her entourage and the news crews in tow overloaded an elevator in the Douglass Houses. One member of the throng accidentally hit the emergency button, causing the FDNY to come and pull everybody out. Patton seized the opportunity to rail against the state of NYCHA’s elevators.
After the second week of her NYCHA stay, Patton announced on Twitter that she would be taking a week off for “3-days of mandatory meetings at HUD.gov” (sic). In a remarkable mix of witness intimidation and publicity hounding, she turned up at Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) rolled Patton out as a prop to prove Trump can’t possibly be racist since she is a Trump hire. Two days later the Washington Post reported that Patton was seeking leave from HUD to star in a reality television show. Her appearance at the Cohen hearing was a kind of audition.
As for the NYCHA residents, they are likely to see more federal budget cuts from HUD while Patton continues her career climb at their expense. It’s a long way to the top and a few stalled elevators and shithole apartments are a small price to pay when you have a brand to build.
Photo: IN THE TRENCHES: “General” Lynne Patton inspects NYCHA boilers. Credit: Office of Bronx Borough President/Flickr.