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Comptroller audit points to vacant NYCHA units

Stephon Johnson | 7/2/2015, 10:26 a.m.
An audit has confirmed what many have suspected—plenty of public housing vacancies are available that aren’t being filled.
NYCHA Housing Photo by Bill Moore

An audit has confirmed what many have suspected—plenty of public housing vacancies are available that aren’t being filled. And plenty of New Yorkers need those spaces.

According to an audit by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, apartments removed from the rent rolls to undergo major renovations stayed empty for an average of seven years. Eighty of those apartments have been vacant for more than a decade.

NYCHA had 2,342 empty apartments total as of late last year. Of that number, 312 were removed from major repairs.

“Notwithstanding NYCHA’s low vacancy rate of only 1 percent, the audit found that NYCHA had inadequate controls in place over the monitoring and tracking of its vacant apartments,” read the comptroller’s statement. “NYCHA did not ensure that vacant apartments both on and off the rent roll were repopulated with new tenants in a timely manner.”

Stringer’s audit also revealed that NYCHA “did not ensure that property managers consistently monitored the conditions of vacant off-roll apartments, increasing their susceptibility to vandalism and unauthorized tenants.” It also found that the agency didn’t have adequate controls over the management of apartments allocated for non-residential use by NYCHA or non-NYCHA organizations.

After the release of the audit, NYCHA released a statement of its own discussing the agency’s low vacancy rates the challenging process of turning over vacant apartments.

“NYCHA has a record low vacancy rate of only 1 percent—the lowest it’s been in nearly 10 years,” read the statement. “With thousands of families on the waiting list for public housing and residents with critical pending transfer needs, managing and turning over our vacant apartments effectively and efficiently is vital to our operations.”

NYCHA also highlighted programs that they said are tackling the problem head-on already. “Through NextGen NYCHA, we are already addressing many of the issues raised in the audit, such as capital repairs, maximizing all of our assets and even collecting rent,” continued the statement. “As a result of NYCHA’s extremely low vacancy rate, there has been no loss of subsidy.”

The housing agency concluded its statement by saying that retuning units to the rent roll efficiently is driven by available resources.

“As long as there is insufficient capital funding to address buildings’ needs, NYCHA will continue to balance the needs of in-place residents with the desire to bring more units online,” the statement read.

So what did Stringer recommend?

“NYCHA should improve its procedures and oversight related to the coordination and completion of repairs and major modernizations so that the apartments can be promptly rented once the work is complete,” read his statement. “NYCHA should either ensure that tenants who are temporarily moved due to elevator rehabilitation move back to their original apartments timely so the temporary apartments can be rented to other tenants or promptly rent out the relocated tenants’ original apartments. NYCHA should make greater efforts to ensure that all developments turn over vacant apartments in a timely manner.”

Stringer also recommended a policy of protocols requiring the agency to periodically monitor vacant apartment to make sure they’re not furthered damaged.