A new Community Service Society (CSS) report, “Public Housing: New York’s Third City,” provides a broad perspective on the problems that beset this city’s public housing and assesses local attempts since 2014 to address them. Despite recent city budget commitments from the de Blasio administration and a lesser commitment from the state, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is still far from the capital funding required to address a $17 billion backlog in infrastructural improvements to its aging buildings.
The report argues that, given the new administration in Washington and expected, severe federal budget cuts – as much as $6 billion at the Department of Housing and Urban Development according to published news reports -- NYCHA’s future will largely depend on New York City and State commitments to preserve public housing.
“As Washington tightens the budget screws on domestic programs, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo must turn their attention to the abysmal condition under which NYCHA residents live,” said David R. Jones, CSS President and CEO. “What’s needed is a long-term Marshall Plan for NYCHA, as outlined in this report, representing a substantial capital commitment in major improvements to the authority’s aging buildings.”
The report finds that, as of 2014, recent NYCHA efforts to expedite repairs had not yet produced significant, measurable improvements to disastrous resident living conditions, still far worse than those facing low-income tenants in private rentals.
To dispel mistaken, prevailing images, the report provides a demographic profile of NYCHA residents, including their income sources and employment patterns. A majority of NYCHA households (60 percent) have at least one working member. Because they number a half-million – more than the entire population of the City of Atlanta -- NYCHA residents have potential organizing power but they tend to be viewed as “a sleeping giant.” The report provides a qualitative assessment of their limited present capacity to mobilize and press their demands on government at every level.
In light of expected federal budget reductions, now more than ever the state and city must make significant commitments to preserve NYCHA public housing, capital commitments that parallel their multi-billion dollar allocations to affordable housing initiatives in the private sector.
The report views NYCHA plans for public housing within the broader context of local and state affordable housing efforts. The governor and the mayor have both recently launched multi-billion dollar affordable housing initiatives that concentrate on construction and preservation of affordable housing in the private sector, while they largely ignore the critical needs of public housing.
The report finds there is a virtual “firewall” that separates these initiatives from public housing. The firewall was most apparent when NYCHA released its 10-year NextGeneration Plan a year after the mayor’s Housing New York plan was announced. Viewed from the perspective of a capital-starved housing authority, the report assesses NYCHA’s plan as a well-devised “bootstrap” operation, in the absence of major resource allocations from state or city government. It calls for parallel state and city capital commitments to NYCHA preservation.
Public Housing: New York’s Third City was written by Victor Bach, CSS Senior Housing Analyst.