URBAN AGENDA: Why do the City and State Undervalue Public Housing Residents?
David R. Jones, Esq., President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York | 4/19/2018, midnight
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) the nation’s largest public housing agency that was once one of the nation’s best run, has declined into a shameful state of disrepair as a result of neglect by the federal government and simultaneous disinvestment by state and local governments. The time has come, once and for all, to address the vicious cycle of declining resources.
After a decade of underfunding and aging infrastructure, NYCHA has reached a negative tipping point that has caused real pain for its 400,000+ tenants. Four out of five public housing residents were without heat at some point last winter as aging boilers, substandard apartment conditions, and leaky roofs continued to contribute to a backlog of $20 billion in needed infrastructure repairs.
The former NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye, who resigned this month, was not the source of all the agency’s problems. Yes, she made serious mistakes such as when the NYCHA failed to carry out inspections for lead-based paint risks. But NYCHA’s problems – internal and external – are longstanding. Reform is badly needed in its bread-and-butter housing management operations. There is no excuse for not keeping boilers running in the winter or conducting required lead-paint inspections to protect children. Yet installing new leadership at NYCHA will mean little if the same obstacles that prevent NYCHA from fulfilling its mission to provide safe and affordable are not dealt with.
Now is the time for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop the grandstanding and to, once and for all, work together in good faith to shore up problems with the NYCHA. The governor and mayor have openly feuded over their respective responsibilities to the NYCHA. Their testy tit-for-tat feud and attacks on each other’s commitment to public housing residents only further stigmatizes NYCHA and plays right into the hands of those who would like to see public housing assets transferred to private interests, or demolished and redeveloped as they were in Chicago and Atlanta. NYCHA is at a vulnerable, and crucial period in its history. We need Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo, both of whom have policy experience in public housing, to work together to marshal the political will and funds needed to preserve New York’s greatest affordable housing resource.
A good place to start would be by fast-tracking priority repairs at NYCHA. For this strategy to work, everyone involved must come to the table – the mayor, the governor, labor unions and construction contractors. The unions and contractors must be willing to waive or renegotiate their arcane work rules that limit NYCHA’s ability to expedite major repairs. Progress is possible if we persevere.
The state and city must think outside the box. The mayor and governor should signal a new era of cooperation by coming together and creating a priority list of NYCHA infrastructure repairs. Armed with such a list the next step for them would be to formulate a multi-year plan to fund the NYCHA capital needs. The plan will require both New York City and New York State to supply major capital funding. The plan also will require a well-conceived outline to guide the coordination of work by city and state agencies.