Victor Bach, Community Service Society (CSS)
at Oversight Hearing
Examining NYCHA’s New Agreement with HUD
New York City Council Committee on Public Housing
March 11th, 2019
The Community Service Society (CSS) is a nonprofit organization, now over 170 years old, that seeks to improve conditions and opportunities for low-income New Yorkers. Since the 1990s, we have conducted policy research/advocacy related to our city’s public housing and provided technical assistance to resident and community leadership. We are pleased to testify today about or hopes for and our concerns about the new federal monitoring agreement reached by HUD, the city, and NYCHA.
The Monitor as an Opportunity
From the start, when the original consent decree was presented to federal Judge William Pauley last year, we viewed the appointment of a federal monitor as an opportunity in several ways. The monitor would be responsible for bringing NYCHA into compliance, seeing that once again it provided decent, basic living conditions for its residents. The monitor would also have wide-ranging powers to influence changes in the way NYCHA is organized and institute major reforms needed in its faulty property management operations. Perhaps most importantly, the monitor would be a “point of accountability” for the authority, a point at which NYCHA would be required to account to residents, to elected officials, and to the broader, concerned housing community about the progress it is making, or the lack thereof, in meeting its objectives and restoring its earlier reputation as a model large-city housing authority where “public housing works.”
The Monitoring Team Needs a Public Housing Pro
We have high expectations of Bart Schwartz, of Guidelines Solutions, whom HUD has just appointed as federal monitor for NYCHA. He enjoys a strong reputation for guiding complex organizational and institutional situations where outside intervention was needed. But those challenges were largely in the private sector. Nor have they dealt with housing. As he assembles his monitoring team, we would urge him to include a seasoned housing professional, ideally with strong management experience in the public housing sector, someone who is known to be committed to the mission of public housing, whose presence would inspire local trust and confidence in the monitoring process among resident leaders and public housing advocates.
We hope the City Council will agree.
Need for Additional HUD Funding
The NYCHA ten-year Plan 2.0, if it succeeds, will generate about $24 billion to meet a capital backlog estimated at $32 billion, but there is still an $8 billion gap. Many of us were disappointed that the HUD-NYCHA agreement did not carry with it an additional HUD commitment of capital funding. Without further federal investment—either through special HUD funding or a national infrastructure initiative—the monitoring effort may fail. The agreement already sets tight deadlines for dealing with toxic lead-paint risks, heating failures, and the like. Since HUD has declared NYCHA in “substantial default”, it has the prerogative of sliding NYCHA into a full takeover through receivership if the monitoring process fails, which would also risk the funds the city and the state have committed over the next ten years. Our hope is that Mr. Schwartz will prove to be an effective ally in making the case in Washington that increased funding is required. Monitoring alone will not solve NYCHA’s problems.
Need for a Stakeholder Oversight Entity and Accountability Mechanisms
The agreement requires the monitor to establish a Community Advisory Committee. The Committee should include prominent resident leaders and activists as well as community leaders with a stake in public housing.
The monitor must also release quarterly reports to the public on NYCHA’s progress in meeting objectives. In addition, we would urge the monitor to consider periodic hearings or other channels to allow for public testimony and feedback, particularly from grass-roots public housing residents who may still be grappling with substandard living conditions. The December hearing held by Judge William Pauley is a good example of how effective the process can be.\
In short, CSS looks forward to working with Bart Schwartz to see that the monitoring process and the changes it brings about will succeed in fulfilling NYCHA’s mission to provide decent, affordable housing to its residents. Thank you.