Before a large audience at the Manhattan Salvation Army Centennial Memorial Temple, all five major Democratic candidates pledged that, if elected mayor, they will end the current policy of requiring the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to pay the city nearly $100 million annually out of its federal operating funds.
This is a significant piece of news. It was made recently at a mayoral forum featuring the five Democratic candidates for mayor discussing their vision for the future of public housing in New York City. The forum was co-sponsored by the Community Service Society and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 237.
Under an agreement that dates back to the consolidation of the city’s Housing Police force within the New York City Police Department, NYCHA pays the city $75 million annually for special police services that the NYPD provides free to private landlords. Another $23 million goes for payments in lieu of taxes from which many nonprofit housing providers are exempt.
Given the authority’s dire financial situation – a $60 million dollar annual operating deficit and a $6 billion dollar backlog in major capital improvements – the city should not be in the business of siphoning off funds that were intended to address critical public housing needs. This policy is even more egregious since NYCHA has been increasingly starved for government funding for the past 15 years.
The Democratic candidates for mayor -- City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, City Comptroller John Liu, City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, and former City Council Member Sal Albanese – also expressed strong misgivings about NYCHA’s Infill proposal. NYCHA plans to raise needed revenue by leasing land in public housing communities for private development. The plan has aroused controversy because it uses public open space for private development purposes to build housing mostly at market rents.
All five candidates want to see NYCHA open up the public process so that resident and community leaders have a chance to assess and shape any redevelopment plans. Some of the candidates said they would like to see the Infill proposal go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP).
Note: Republican mayoral candidates Joe Llota, John Catsimatidis, and George McDonald, and independent candidate Adolfo Carrion Jr., were invited to the forum but declined.
The next mayor will inherit an incredible public housing resource which once served as the model across the nation. While NYCHA has managed to preserve its public housing, this once high-performing authority is struggling to restore its image as a result of chronic funding shortfalls, management deficiencies, and increasing resident complaints.
The Community Service Society recently released a detailed analysis of the city’s public and subsidized housing stock. The report, entitled, “Good Place to Work, Hard Place to Live,” found that as the city’s economy continues to generate large numbers of low-wage jobs, the private housing market and affordable housing subsidy programs are falling behind the housing needs of low-income New Yorkers.
New York’s public housing population is estimated at a half million residents, larger than the population of Atlanta, Cleveland, or Miami. It represents a substantial part of the city’s affordable housing stock. While leveraging NYCHA’s assets to generate revenue in support of its operating and capital needs may become necessary, any redevelopment proposals must ensure the full and informed participation of NYCHA residents and the surrounding communities. At least the Democratic candidates are in agreement on this issue.