NYC Alliance to Preserve Public Housing Response to NYCHA Draft FY2017 Annual Plan

Shola Olatoye, Chair
New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)
250 Broadway
New York, NY 10007

Dear Chair Olatoye:

Participants in the NYC Alliance to Preserve Public Housing submit the attached comments as a collective response to the NYCHA Draft FY2017 Annual Plan. The Alliance is a working collaboration of resident leaders/organizations, housing advocates, community and labor organizations, and concerned elected officials to press for policies to strengthen our public housing communities and extend housing opportunities under the Section 8 voucher program.  We seek a stronger resident voice in government decisions that affect NYCHA communities, as well as greater openness and accountability on the part of the Authority.

We acknowledge the steps NYCHA has taken in the past year to move forward with its Next Generation Plan, including:

  • Reduction of the annual operating deficit from $77 to 22 million.
  • NextGeneration Housing: Developers have been selected for the first three developments. Three additional developments are targeted for 100-percent affordable housing.
  • NextGeneration Neighborhoods—RFPs have been released for the first two developments.
  • PACT/RAD Conversions: A development team has been selected for the first RAD conversion at Ocean Bay (Bayside) Apartments in Far Rockaway (1,400 units). This year’s plan calls for the conversion of an additional 5,100 units.
  • Housing Management: Significant reforms have been initiated—the OPMOM demonstration is in its second year. The new FlexOps demonstration changes management shifts work to provide for a wider coverage to meet resident needs

This paper describes the key issues we have identified in this year’s Annual Plan and forwards our recommendations. Major concerns include:

  • The need for increased capital investment at all levels of government
  • Process issues in NextGeneration housing development initiatives.
  • Putting RAD guideline principles for resident rights and protections into practice. The need for ongoing monitoring of RAD conversions.
  • The potentially adverse impacts of HUD’s proposal for Small Area FMRs.
  • Strengthening resident participation.
  • Strengthening current NYCHA housing management reforms

Respectfully submitted,
The New York City Alliance to Preserve Public Housing

Contact:  Victor Bach, Coordinator, vbach@cssny.org, (212) 614-5492
NYC ALLIANCE TO PRESERVE PUBLIC HOUSING

Participants and Support
This position paper on the NYCHA Draft FY2017 Annual Plan has the support of the following:

Advocacy, Community, and Labor Organizations
The Church of the Open Door
Citizens Committee for Children of New York
Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV)
Community Service Society (CSS)
Community Voices Heard (CVH)
Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE)
Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES)
Housing Court Answers
Legal Aid Society
Teamsters Local 237 City Employees Union
Urban Justice Center—Community Development Project
Women’s City Club of New York

Resident Organizations
Alfred E. Smith Houses Residents Association, Manhattan
Amsterdam Houses Residents Association, Manhattan
Harborview Terrace Residents Association, Manhattan
Rutgers Houses Resident Association, Manhattan
Vladeck Houses, Resident Association, Manhattan
Wyckoff Gardens Resident Association, Brooklyn

Government Officials/Community Boards
NY City Councilmember Rosie Mendez
NY City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal

NY State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh
NY State Assemblymember Walter T. Mosley
NY State Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell
NY State Assemblymember Victor M. Pichardo
NY State Assemblymember Richard N. Gottfried

NY State Senator Liz Krueger
NY State Senator Velmanette Montgomery
NY State Senator Bill Perkins
NY State Senator Jose M. Serrano
NY State Senator Daniel Squadron

Gale A. Brewer, Borough President of Manhattan

Community Board 12, Manhattan


NYC ALLIANCE TO PRESERVE PUBLIC HOUSING

MAJOR ISSUES:  NYCHA FY2017 DRAFT ANNUAL PLAN

Background

The issues identified and the recommendations put forward in this position paper reflect the ongoing pressures NYCHA and its residents face:

• An estimated $22 million operating deficit in public housing (reduced from $77 million last year.)
• A $16 to 17 billion backlog in needed major capital improvements.  A half-million residents in 178,000 apartments are struggling with accelerating deterioration and substandard living conditions.

Continued Washington underfunding of operating and capital subsidies means that, if our public housing is to be preserved, New York State and City must take on a greater share of responsibility for capital investment to restore NYCHA infrastructure.

CITY AND STATE: PARALLEL COMMITMENTS TO PUBLIC HOUSING NEEDED

In recent years, both the Governor and the Mayor have made major, multi-billion dollar, long-term commitments to affordable housing initiatives, focused on private sector construction and preservation, while excluding public housing.  There seems to be a “firewall” separating these initiatives from investments in public housing.

Since 2014, the city has been generous with NYCHA—relieving it of over $100 million in annual payments to the city, committing $300 million in the capital budget to roof replacement over 3 years, budgeting close to $100 million for façade work in the coming year.  But this investment is short of the need, and marginal in scale compared to investment in the Mayor’s Housing NY Plan.

State investment in NYCHA preservation has been less generous.  In the FY 2016 budget, after 600 residents trekked to Albany, the state committed only $100 million for NYCHA improvements, less than the amount advocated by many state legislators. But the Governor decided not to invest in major capital improvements, instead distributing the funds in small increments to each legislative district for less urgent, quality-of-life improvements, such as security devices, landscaping and playground improvements, appliances, and the like. Because the budget legislation required multiple layers of state oversight and approval, commitment of even these limited funds has been delayed.

This year the Governor announced a $5 billion, 5-year Affordable Housing Program, with $2 billion budgeted for the coming year. No mention was made of public housing.  Although Assembly leaders and some state senators pressed for $500 million to be carved out for NYCHA, there is still no agreement. This is particularly disappointing since the state bears much responsibility for NYCHA’s financial stresses: its 1998 termination of operating subsidies to NYCHA’s 15 state-financed developments resulted in a cumulative operating shortfall of close to $1 billion by 2010, when the developments were federalized.

We Recommend:

State and City leaders break through the “firewall” that now separates NYCHA from major affordable housing initiatives, by making proportionate, parallel commitments to restoring NYCHA infrastructure and decent living conditions for residents.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING DEVELOPMENT AT NYCHA SITES

The NYCHA NextGeneration Plan—in keeping with the Mayor’s 10-year Housing NY Plan—calls for the development of 17,500 housing units on NYCHA grounds, of which 13,500 (80%) would be “affordable.”    The Authority estimates that 50 to 60 towers-in-the-park developments—about one out of five—will be involved over the next ten years.  10,000 units will be in buildings that are 100-percent affordable, 7,500 units in mixed-income buildings, with 50-percent of units affordable. Mixed-income development is expected to generate substantial revenues ($300 to $600 million over 10 years) for infrastructure improvements. Over the past year NYCHA has been steadily moving forward with its housing development plans, in some cases despite resident resistance.

100-Percent Affordable Development (NextGeneration Housing)

After considerable resident engagement, NYCHA has selected developers for the first three 100-percent sites—Millbrook (156 senior units), Ingersoll (145 senior units), and Van Dyke (188 family units.)  Project-based vouchers will be used in the first two, HPD subsidies in the third, which will enable current NYCHA residents to access units (with a 25-percent preference.)  Three additional 100-percent developments are added in this year’s annual plan—Betances V (senior housing), Betances VI (family housing) in the Bronx,  and Sumner Houses (senior housing) in Brooklyn. The Betances developments are part of a Choice Neighborhoods proposal for submission to HUD, for which NYCHA issued an RFP—request for proposals—in June, 2016.

Mixed-Income, 50-Percent Affordable Development (NextGeneration Neighborhoods)

In June, 2016 NYCHA issued an RFP for the two sites: Wyckoff Gardens (300-400 units) in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn and Holmes Towers (350-400 units) on the Upper East Side, Manhattan.  NYCHA has formed stakeholder committees at each development—that include resident leaders, community stakeholders, and elected officials—to work with NYCHA and the to-be-selected developer.  The RFP incorporates “community principles” governing redevelopment, agreed upon during resident engagement. At Wyckoff Gardens, however, there is a dispute over whether the final agreement was reached before the RFP was issued. No other mixed-income developments have been proposed.

We Recommend:

  • The model evolving at the first two mixed-income development sites should be used in all NYCHA communities where housing development is taking place:
  1. The preparation of a written agreement with the community concerning the principles that will guide redevelopment. The agreement should include an understanding of how much of the generated revenue will be invested in within the ccommunity in needed capital improvements
  2. The formation of a Stakeholder Committee that includes resident leaders, concerned elected officials, and other community stakeholders. 
  • Adequate time should be given to finalizing the community agreement before an RFP is released.  At Wyckoff Gardens, resident and community leaders claim the process was not completed before NYCHA released the RFP.  Given NYCHA’s investment in resident engagement, there is no reason this should recur.
  • Resident leaders should have an opportunity to review submitted proposals and register
    their preferences before NYCHA selects a developer.

  • Revenues generated by development should be prioritized to address the on-site backlog of needed major improvements.

  • NYCHA should maintain an open accounting of the revenue generated within each development and its allocations over time to needed improvements.

PACT/RAD CONVERSION OF EXISTING HIGH-COST DEVELOPMENTS

The NextGeneration NYCHA Plan calls for the transfer of 15,000 units in costly-to-manage public housing developments to alternative ownership, under the HUD Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program.  Under RAD, federal public housing subsidies—operating and capital—are converted to guaranteed, long-term (20-year) rental assistance contracts (like project-based Section 8), which make it possible for the new owner to borrow the capital needed to restore living conditions to a high standard (the 25-year capital need).  Permanent affordability is assured—HUD and the owner are required to renew contracts on expiration.

So far, NYCHA has one RAD application approved by HUD, for Ocean Bay Apartments (Bayside) in Far Rockaway. After a long period of resident engagement, an RFP was issued this year and the development team has been selected.

NYCHA is now targeting its scattered-site developments (about 6,400 units) and distressed/obsolete developments for RAD conversion.  Last month, in June 2016, NYCHA announced the PACT initiative—Permanent Affordability Commitment Together—for the first wave of 5,100 units for which it is filing applications with HUD, with approval not expected for a year or two. NYCHA retains a 60-year leasehold on the property and will have a role in the new ownership structure. NYCHA waiting lists will be tapped to fill any vacancies in the converted development. Project-based vouchers will be used to assure deep income targeting.

In March, with NYCHA’s encouragement, the Community Service Society (CSS) and Enterprise Community Partners convened the RAD Roundtable on Resident Rights and Protections. Its purpose was to develop “guideline principles” that assure basic tenant rights during and after conversion, as the property shifts from public housing to private ownership under a different federal program with different rules and regulations.  The Roundtable included a mix of 25 resident leaders and housing advocates and met through June. Its preliminary principles have been incorporated into the announced NYCHA PACT/RAD program.

We Recommend:

  • The preparation of a RAD handbook as a reference for NYCHA residents facing RAD conversion.  Ideally, the handbook should be independently prepared, in consultation with NYCHA.
  • The RAD Roundtable should be continued, in order to monitor the NYCHA conversion process, see that the principles for resident rights and protections are put into practice by the new owners and NYCHA, and address any unexpected issues that arise.
  • Provision should be made with the new owners to promote the retention of NYCHA management staff at converted developments. NYCHA should make every effort to absorb displaced staff at other developments it manages.

SECTION 8 HOUSING VOUCHER ISSUES: HUD-PROPOSED SMALL AREA FMRs

In the June 16, 2016 Federal Register, HUD proposed implementing Small Area FMRs (SAFMR) in a number of cities, including New York.  Comments on the proposal are due by August 15th.  Although SAFMRs are not specifically mentioned in the NYCHA Annual Plan—it is not yet an actuality—the proposal raises serious concerns among the NYC Alliance to Preserve Public Housing, serious enough to merit inclusion in these comments.

In brief, the HUD proposal seeks to change the current Fair Market Rent (FMR) levels now set at the 50th percentile of rents asked in the metropolitan area, which determine the maximum rent level (payment standard) a Section 8 voucher will support.  Instead, HUD proposes to calculate FMRs by zip code, in order to promote mobility of voucher holders into higher-rent “neighborhoods of opportunity” and to better housing. (At present, NYC voucher holders are concentrated in the city’s lower-rent, higher-poverty neighborhoods.) HUD finds many owners in low-rent markets are overpaid. No federal funds will be added to the revised voucher program.

Because of New York’s low rental vacancy rate, it is expected there will be little mobility into higher rent areas, while existing voucher holders in lower rent areas—many of them elderly or disabled—will face lower FMR payment standards and the hardship of higher rent burdens if they remain in place.  If they choose to move, or hold a new voucher, there will be fewer rental options available because owner incentives in low rent neighborhoods will be reduced. Current voucher holders already have difficulty finding apartments and the voucher turn-back rate is high.  SAFMRs will only make it more difficult and increase the risk of displacement and eviction of current vouchered residents.

We Recommend:

NYCHA and HPD—the city’s housing authorities—submit comments to HUD that strenuously object to the inclusion of New York City—and other cities with low vacancy rates—in the HUD SAFMR initiative, until such time as a workable program can be tailored to the needs of tenants in New York and other low-vacancy cities that addresses the above concerns and ensures the initiative does not result in the displacement of current voucher holders from their homes.

STRENGTHENING RESIDENT ORGANIZATION

The NextGeneration NYCHA Plan provides numerous opportunities for engaging residents in a meaningful way, as potential partners in planning for the future of their communities. NYCHA must commit itself to strengthening resident organization and supporting a truly collaborative process.

HUD Tenant Participation Activity (TPA) funds now amount to a cumulative unused pool estimated at $10 to 13 million, which accrues over $3 million in addition each year. NYCHA and resident leaders—particularly the Citywide Council of Presidents (CCOP)—must come to an agreement on how to make the best use of this critical and underutilized resource.

We Recommend:

  • Effective resident leadership training must be provided on an ongoing basis, by allocating an appropriate portion of TPA funds every year.  Training is sorely lacking in such areas as organizing skills, advocacy, and engagement with NYCHA and the community at large.
  • TPA funds should be used to hire organizers to help create resident associations in developments where they do not exist.  Roughly a third of NYCHA communities have no resident association.
  • Leadership training should be provided under contract by independent technical assistance providers, not by NYCHA itself.  (The farmer should not be counseling the chicks.) Resident preferences should be considered in selecting the provider.
  • Major emphasis should be given to engaging younger residents and those with limited English proficiency.
  • An independent, external audit of the use of TPA funds to date should be conducted in order to assess and correct for past underutilization and any misallocations.

HOUSING MANAGEMENT REFORMS

In the last two years NYCHA has made innovative moves forward in the way it delivers on-site management services. OPMOM is a demonstration program that allows for decentralized, on-site management budgeting and decision-making.  FlexOps is a demonstration that alters management shift arrangements to provide wider hourly coverage for needed resident services.

We recommend:

  • Each of these demonstration programs needs to be independently evaluated to assess their results, recommend improvements, and possible expansion.
  • Current, skeletal staffing levels should be re-evaluated to determine whether staff additions are needed to make these reforms as successful as possible.

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“Affordable” apartments are intended to serve household incomes no greater than 60 percent of the HUD area median income (AMI), roughly $46,000 for a family of three.  Depending on the mix of subsidies—such as Section 8 project-based vouchers—the incomes targeted may be much lower.

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