The New York City affordable housing crisis is likely worse now than ever before. According to a recent Bloomberg report, the average monthly rent in February 2015 for a Manhattan studio apartment is $2,351, and Brooklyn is officially the least affordable housing market in America.

The effects of globalization and foreign investment in New York’s real estate market are squeezing city residents’ budgets more and more each day. It’s commendable that Mayor Bill de Blasio has made creating affordable housing a top priority of his administration. Clearly, we need to do more. But we first must protect and invest in our existing affordable housing stock: the New York City Housing Authority developments throughout the five boroughs.

Publically owned and operated housing is the only permanent source of affordable housing. If working and low-income New Yorkers are to have a future in our city, we must make the investments necessary to maintain NYCHA housing and ensure that it remains in public hands.

NYCHA residents include civil servants, retail workers, nurses, transit workers and nearly a third of the 9,000 NYCHA workers who are Local 237 members. These are the people we rely on to make New York City work and that make our city dynamic, vibrant and diverse. Without the efforts of NYCHA residents each day, New York City would not function as a world-class city. These families are key to the economic engine of our city, and we need to do more to protect them.

Any conversation about affordable housing should start with a renewed commitment to public housing. Almost 1 in every 12 New Yorkers lives in NYCHA housing. There are 334 developments holding 178,895 apartments in 2,602 buildings situated on an area three times the size of Central Park. Officials cite the population at 400,000, but because there are so many people living “off-lease,” the actual population is approximately 600,000. An additional 160,000 families are on a waiting list.

It’s admirable that Assembly Member Keith Wright, who chairs the Housing Committee in the New York Assembly, has advocated for investing an additional $125 million in NYCHA, but we need an equal commitment from the state Senate and the governor’s office. Because of chronic federal underfunding, at least $375 million in additional dollars are needed from the state this year, and we need to fund NYCHA at sustainable levels in future budgets.

State Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), leader of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, said additional money for NYCHA is a top priority in ongoing budget negotiations. Klein explained, “We need to correct an injustice that’s been in existence for many, many years.” He is right, and I commend his advocacy. These funds are desperately needed to make repairs and ensure the maintenance of these buildings for future generations. 

Across the country, nearly a quarter-million units of public housing have been lost. Federal programs, such as Rental Assistance Demonstration, a rapidly expanding pilot program, are leading to the privatization of entire housing authorities. New York City must hold the line by supporting the only form of long-term guaranteed affordable housing we have.  

Affordable housing in New York City starts with NYCHA. Let’s make sure that funding for this vital resource is allocated by the state government. Keeping our public housing stock strong provides a secure foundation for the people who keep New York City running at its best.