NEW YORK (AP) — Since she took over as President Donald Trump’s top housing official in the New York City area, Lynne Patton has been criticized for bringing a reality TV approach to what’s traditionally been a bureaucratic job.
She’s feuded with journalists, calling one White House reporter April Ryan “Miss Piggy.” On Twitter, she tosses barbs at liberal politicians and lavishes praise on the Trump family, which she worked for as an aide before being installed in 2017 at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Patton, 46, even sought guidance from HUD last fall as to whether she could take time off to appear in a TV “docuseries” about black Republicans.
So when Patton announced she’d be living in New York City’s decaying public housing system for four weeks to get a sense of what it was like for tenants, there was skepticism. Was she there to learn and come up with policy solutions? Or was it a stunt?
As the experiment winds down this week, several tenants who met her said they were impressed by her passionate advocacy.
“Listen, she’s the messenger. I think she deserves a chance,” said Leilani Smith-Simon, a longtime tenant who attended a town hall with Patton at the Queensbridge Houses in Queens. “I have to hope things can change and things can get better. She seems trustworthy and she wants us to hold her accountable. There’s something to be said for that.”
Some were more skeptical.
“This is all a show,” Queensbridge tenant Tracy Harris said. “I don’t believe one word that’s coming out of her mouth. She’s saying all the right things, but they’re empty promises. Just like the last person who came up in here, and the person before that. She’s all for show.”
Patton spent her last week of overnights at Brooklyn’s Fenimore-Lefferts Houses, where she held a media event Tuesday.
Wearing high-heeled boots, a chic black cape and sunglasses perched atop her head, she led reporters through apartments with moldy ceilings and down to a fetid basement where she covered her nose and mouth with her scarf.
“I’m happy that she’s here,” Patton’s host in Brooklyn, Gwendolyn Jones, said. “She can share some insight with whoever, let them know that enough is enough. She’s wonderful. She’s concerned.”
After delays caused in part by the 35-day government shutdown, Patton launched her tour on Feb. 11, toting an air mattress into the Patterson Houses in the Bronx. She went on to stay with other host families in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.
Patton has said her goal is to shine a spotlight on public housing ills such as chronic heat and hot water outages.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks that this is no longer OK,” she said in November when she first floated the sleepover idea.
Along the way she joined a Zumba class, watched “The Wendy Williams Show” with her Queensbridge host, April Simpson, and got stuck in an overcrowded elevator.
She also took a break to make a surprise cameo appearance at the congressional testimony of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
Patton stood silently behind North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows as he told fellow lawmakers that Patton wouldn’t have gone to work for Trump if Trump were a racist, as Cohen claimed. The performance prompted Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib to accuse Meadows of using Patton “as a prop.”
“I am not a prop,” Patton said at the Queensbridge Houses the week after Cohen testified. “The only prop in that room is Michael Cohen for the Democratic Party.”
The Washington Post reported this month that last fall Patton sought guidance from HUD on whether she could work with Truly Original Productions, the producers of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” on a reality series about black Republicans.
Patton told The Associated Press that the TV show was shelved because she couldn’t do it at the same time as her HUD job.
“All I did was decide to run it past HUD ethics to see if it was possible to do it,” she said. “My whole point was I wanted to keep my job.”
The New York City Housing Authority, which has more than 400,000 residents in 328 separate complexes and has long been plagued by problems such as vermin and leaky roofs, was hit with a new scandal in 2017 when investigators accused it of falsifying reports about inspections for lead paint. The Justice Department sued the city, accusing it of neglecting tenants.
Threatened with a complete federal takeover, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an agreement in January with Patton’s boss, Housing Secretary Ben Carson, to put the authority under the eye of a federal monitor. Bart Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor and the chairman of the investigations firm Guidepost Solutions, was named to the position last month.
Patton says she will brief the monitor on her stays.
“The whole purpose of this excursion is to bring my findings to the federal monitor so that they can effectuate permanent change,” she said.
Patton’s Queensbridge host, Simpson, said she expects Patton’s visit to yield results.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, I don’t give a crap,” Simpson said. “Human beings are living under conditions that are horrid. We need as a society to fix that.”
To de Blasio and other New York Democrats, the authority’s problems stem from years of federal disinvestment.
“Certainly, a lot of people have praised her for staying in NYCHA developments, but if there’s not a parallel effort to boost federal funding for repairs and maintenance, that won’t accomplish much,” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat whose district includes 31 NYCHA developments.
She said the president’s budget proposal, released this week, would slash money for public housing nationwide.
Patton bristled this week in Brooklyn when asked about the proposal, saying more money wasn’t necessarily the answer.
“You can throw money at a problem all day long but if it’s mismanaged and misspent it doesn’t matter,” she said.