Public Housing on the Brink

David R. Jones, La Nueva Mayoria / The New Majority

After decades of disinvestment, it’s time for the state and the city to work collaboratively to save New York City’s public housing.

While most of the blame for NYCHA’s failing financial and physical condition can be directly linked to chronic federal starvation funding over the years, the city and state have played a substantial role in its decline. As such, both the city and state must recognize their responsibility to help restore this critically-needed housing resource.

Not only with an additional $100 million in this year’s state budget, not only by dedicating $400 million in Battery Park City Authority excess funds to NYCHA capital improvements, but with a long-term commitment that parallels Governor Cuomo’s and Mayor de Blasio’s multi-billion dollar affordable housing initiatives in the private sector.

In short, the city and state need to invest again in NYCHA, and its residents.

Taking their demands to Albany

With that in mind, more than six-hundred public housing residents from across the five boroughs traveled to Albany this week to demand a greater investment from the state in public housing. It’s only fair that the state take some responsibility for fixing the problem. In 1998, Gov. Pataki ended operating subsidies to 15 state developments, leaving NYCHA with an operating shortfall of $60 million annually. The cumulative shortfall amounted to $720 million by 2010.

Absent a commitment of funds to reduce annual budget deficits of nearly $100 million, and a backlog of $17 billion in needed capital improvements to its aging infrastructure, NYCHA is certain to fall into greater disrepair. Some buildings may have to be vacated. Others may be converted to private, affordable housing to bring in outside capital for major improvements.  

Living conditions at many of the city’s public housing developments invoke comparisons to Third World countries. Leaking roofs, crumbling facades, failing elevators and toxic mold has become all too common. Just yesterday we learned that the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York has been investigating health and safety conditions at NYCHA housing. That these conditions exist in housing mostly occupied by black and Latino families -- with a median incomes of less than $19,000 – bothers long-time public housing resident Raul Cales. The 61-year old retired military veteran has lived in the Dyckman Houses since he was one year old.  

On Wednesday, in between meetings with Albany lawmakers, Cales talked about how different life in the Dyckman Houses was 20 and 30 years ago. Back then, he said, apartment repairs were done the same day. Residents felt safe and secure enough in their homes to leave the apartment doors open. In the lobby of the building you could buy milk and ice cream pops.

Nowadays, however, repairs to apartments can take six months or more. As Dyckman’s resident association vice president, Cales has been inside a lot of apartments. One of the most common problems he sees is cracking and peeling paint from rain water penetrating the brick face of the building. “Every time it rains people have to move TVs and things around so they don’t get electrocuted. No one should have to live like that. It’s a hazard.”

Some relief is on the way. Repairs to the brick facing of two of Dyckman’s seven 14-story buildings is either underway or scheduled, according to Cales. But he suspects a lack of funding is why repairs have not commenced on the other five buildings, or to the leaky roofs in the 1,167 unit development.  

$2.5 Billion Over Five Years

Our public housing represents the largest single source of public housing in the state and city. It can’t be matched for serving truly low-income New Yorkers, even by the ambitious affordable housing initiatives put forth by the governor and mayor. The only way we will preserve NYCHA is by making a financial commitment commensurate with the need. That’s why public housing residents and allies (including CSS) are calling for $2.5 billion over five years in state funding.

 

The city has pledged $300 million in capital funds over three years to address NYCHA’s most urgent capital needs. Now the state has to do its part and preserve this critical housing resource for the next generation.  

 

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