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Let's put public housing on solid ground

Gregory Floyd President | , Teamsters | 6/27/2013, 12:02 p.m.
Defending pensions from a surprise attack

While our rents continue to rise, chronic underfunding and mismanagement threaten the very future of New York's public housing. Between 2002 and 2008, the city lost nearly 200,000 affordable rental housing units, according to the public advocate's office, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported that 60 percent of all renters in the city cannot afford the market rate for a typical two-bedroom apartment, which is about $1,474, according to the city's Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This makes no sense. How can the city turn its back on its public housing, where a half-million of New York City's hardest-working residents--the majority of whom are retirees or workers--live and raise their families?

Under Bloomberg, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is on the verge of financial collapse. Currently operating with a $60 million deficit and a $6 billion backlog in major capital improvements, the once well-respected, shining example of civic responsibility that received national acclaim has been neglected by an administration committed to private, for-profit interests at the expense of public services.

NYCHA's mismanagement is even worse when you look at how it treats its residents. Last summer, the Daily News uncovered a huge backlog of needed repairs. In fact, there were 10,000 requests that weren't scheduled until 2014. This situation is unacceptable. Are we really telling these people they must live in unsafe and unsanitary conditions for two years?

As president of Local 237, I'm proud to represent more than 8,000 NYCHA employees, and I'm also concerned with every person who calls the city's public housing home. With a population larger than Atlanta, Cleveland or Miami, NYCHA's residents represent a formidable force in this city. Our union is committed to finding solutions to preserve public housing, not only because NYCHA residents and employees are blue-collar workers who drive our city's economy, but because it's the right thing to do for our fellow New Yorkers.

To advance our mission, we hosted a mayoral forum in April to see what type of commitment the leading Democratic candidates were willing to make to improve NYCHA. Overall, the candidates agreed that the next mayor should aggressively pursue government funding for NYCHA; monitor its spending; stop payments for police and sanitation services; restructure the board to include residents; stop warehousing apartments; cancel plans to sell property to luxury developers; hire more local workers; and maintain control.

However, only one candidate has since demonstrated that he is a true champion of public housing--former City Comptroller Bill Thompson. Last month, Thompson demanded the firing of NYCHA Chairman John Rhea, saying, "City leaders shouldn't sit silently while the authority's mismanagement and incompetence hits thousands of working families." He recently called for building middle- and low-income housing on unused housing authority property that Rhea has earmarked for luxury developments.

We believe Thompson has the chops and a history of getting things done in government. That's why Local 237 endorsed Thompson for mayor this month. When he is elected, we look forward to working with him to reform NYCHA and make it a safe and reliable haven for New York's hard-working families again.