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NYC housing chief quits under fire


NEW YORK -- Laura D. Blackburne, the chairwoman of New York City's Housing Authority, resigned under pressure yesterday after a week of mounting criticism of her spending practices, including hundreds of thousands of dollars she spent on office furnishings and business trips.

At a hastily arranged news conference at City Hall late yesterday afternoon, Mayor David N. Dinkins said Ms. Blackburne, 53, had submitted her letter of resignation yesterday and he had regretfully accepted it.

While citing Ms. Blackburne's accomplishments in improving living conditions in the city's public housing projects, Dinkins said that "public confidence in her has been shaken and her ability to function effectively as chair of the authority is irreparably damaged."

Ms. Blackburne is being investigated by five agencies, including the inspector general of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan, the state attorney general, the city Department of Investigations and the mayor's office.

"The investigations which have been launched by my administration and other authorities limit the time and energies she would otherwise devote to her responsibilities as chair," Dinkins said in a prepared statement.

Ms. Blackburne was not at yesterday's news conference.

Mr. Dinkins refused to comment on the investigations or to criticize her actions, other than to say her effectiveness in the $110,000-a-year job had been undermined.

During the past week it was revealed that Ms. Blackburne had redecorated her office lavishly, with a $3,000 couch, among other things, and had used public money to pay her way when she accompanied the mayor on a trip to South Africa in November.

The mayor had asked all of his commissioners to pay for the trip themselves, and last week directed her to reimburse the money.

The system Ms. Blackburne has run since 1990 is the nation's largest housing authority.

The system, with a budget of $1.3 billion and staff of more than 15,000 employees, shelters more than 600,000 people.

Federal and local housing officials have given Ms. Blackburne high marks for innovative programs that have greatly improved living conditions in public housing projects.

Newly released records of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority also revealed that Ms. Blackburne's spending habits as an MTA board member had come under criticism there, and had prompted changes in its rules on reimbursements.

She did not resign her MTA seat yesterday, transit officials said.

Her troubles were the latest in a string of embarrassing revelations about Dinkins aides that began with the admission by the mayor's former campaign treasurer that he stole $158,000 from its accounts.

A Department of Investigations report also concluded Friday that the commissioner of youth services gave a contract improperly to a foundation he formerly led.

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