Testimony of Victor Bach, Senior Housing Policy Analyst
Oversight Hearings: The State’s $100M Allocation to NYCHA
New York City Council Public Housing Committee
The Community Service Society thanks the Committee for this public airing about what is happening to the $100 million state capital commitment to NYCHA. Coming after more than a decade of state disinvestment in the NYCHA housing it financed, these hard-won funds represent a critical contribution to addressing the $16 billion backlog in major infrastructural improvements across the Authority’s 328 developments.
On a freezing morning last March, more than 500 public housing residents from New York City bussed to Albany to press Governor Cuomo and the state legislature for a capital commitment for needed structural repairs to their aging housing. They scored an unprecedented victory. But, if the governor has his way, these funds will be politically dispersed and frittered away on more cosmetic needs, rather than basic infrastructural improvements.
Pursuant to the provisions of the capital allocation, on April 10th NYCHA submitted a Revitalization Plan to the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal (HCR). The Plan directed the capital funds to roof replacements. Failing roofs are a prime cause of accelerating building deterioration, resulting in leaks down the line, corroding walls, and unhealthy mold, which generate large numbers of repair orders. It targeted those buildings it assessed were in the worst condition, 123 total in 18 developments across the city.
By May, we understand the governor set aside the NYCHA plan and called a meeting of key legislators. Instead, he proposed to distribute $2 million to each legislator and solicit their proposals for how the funds were to be used. The resulting HCR guidelines for proposal submissions are appended to this testimony. Oddly, they explicitly prohibit basic infrastructure repairs, such as roofing or mechanical systems. Instead, they suggest improvements, such as lighting, landscaping, recreation equipment, security systems, and appliances. Residents might well need and want such improvements, but they will not prevent NYCHA buildings from crumbling into disrepair. CSS is concerned the funds will be squandered on marginal, relatively cosmetic changes that produce ribbon-cutting ceremonies rather than basic improvements. This “pork barrel” approach has been appropriately criticized by Councilmember Ritchie Torres, Chair of this Committee, as putting political favors ahead of the preservation of our public housing.
This is particularly surprising since the Governor has a distinguished record as a housing leader, both in New York City and in Washington. He ought to know better. The approach is cynically political—it ignores several key factors that need to be considered in putting the state capital allocation to best use:
First, there are vast differences by district, both in the condition and in the number of NYCHA developments and apartments. For example, Assemblyman Michael Blake’s 79th district in the Bronx has the second largest number, 28 developments with 11,300 apartments, compared to Dov Hikind’s 46th district in Brooklyn with only nine developments and 4,100 apartments. Yet, they are both slated to receive $2 million.
Second, clear criteria should be spelled out for determining the best use of the capital funds. NYCHA’s plan was clear in that regard. It designated roof replacements as the most critical intervention and targeted those buildings in the worst condition where they were most urgently needed. While the NYCHA plan may be open to debate, to our knowledge it has not yet been technically assessed by HCR. As proposals are sought from legislators, the HCR guidelines do not spell out any criteria they should take into account, those criteria the agency plans to use to distinguish a good proposal from a bad one. It appears HCR is prepared to consider all proposals, without regard to merit or need.
In short, we are concerned that the state will be squandering $100 million in scarce capital resources by politically dispersing it without addressing the most critical needs of NYCHA and its residents. We urge the City Council to forward a resolution to the Governor as soon as possible, pressing him to give serious reconsideration to the NYCHA Revitalization Plan.