Testimony to NYC Council Housing Committee on NYCHA Budget

Victor Bach

Testimony: Oversight Hearings on the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget and NYCHA
New York City Council Committee on Public Housing

Thank you for this opportunity to testify on the mayor’s preliminary budget for NYCHA. As we all know, this hearing is taking place as Washington considers surgical 15-percent cuts to HUD’s budget, which will set NYCHA back by a decade when its operating deficits ran in the hundreds of millions and the deterioration of resident living conditions accelerated. It is clear now, more than ever, that we can’t count on Washington. We have to rely on the city and state to deepen their commitments to sustain and restore our public housing.

Our just-released, attached CSS report calls public housing “New York’s Third City” for several reasons.  The two most important reasons:  Among “have not” New Yorkers, NYCHA residents live in abysmal conditions far worse than other low-income tenants in private rentals. NYCHA conditions comprise a hellish world unto itself—leaking roofs, crumbling facades, failing elevators, and toxic molds.  As importantly, public housing is a “third city” because our political leaders view it as separate from the rest of their housing agendas. It is a stepchild to the multi-billion dollar affordable housing initiatives put forward by the mayor and the governor, which largely ignore public housing and concentrate on construction and preservation of affordable housing in the private sector. A virtual “firewall” separates those major initiatives from NYCHA preservation.

We commend Mayor de Blasio for proposing a capital budget that commits an additional $1 billion over 10 years to NYCHA preservation, bringing the city’s total to $1.4 billion since he took office. That is a major step toward breaking down the “firewall” separating a half-million NYCHA residents from the city’s housing plans.  But more is needed to address the $17 billion backlog in needed infrastructure improvements to NYCHA’s aging buildings. Again, we can’t depend on Washington to save the nation’s largest single housing resource for low-income families.

The city and the state contributed to the present crisis by disinvesting in NYCHA for decades. They must now step up to the plate to restore it. That is why we join our allies in calling for a 10-year city commitment of $1 billion annually if residents are to see improvements within their lifetime. And, of course, the state needs to make a similar commitment.

The city and state firewalls still exist. This is the time for them to match their commitment to private affordable housing with a parallel commitment to reinvesting in public housing and its residents.

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