As Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes major announcements that he is proposing $550 million in funding for the New York City Housing Authority in the state budget, tenants continue to suffer.
Hearing from folks who are battling with issues in NYCHA, the AmNews sat down this week with a group of tenant leaders from across the city. The leaders gave an inside view of the day-to-day problems public housing residents are facing as politicians continue to promise funding and fixes.
Carmen Quinones, Tenants Association president of Frederick Douglass Houses in Manhattan; Ronald Topping, Tenants Association president of John Adams Houses in the Bronx; and Lilithe Lozano, executive treasurer of the City Council of Presidents and Bronx North District chair, presented myriad issues in NYCHA that remain unresolved.
While headlines continue to cover mold, broken heaters and the lead paint crisis, the three leaders expressed frustration over a lack of funding by NYCHA and the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development that lawfully belongs to public housing residents.
Over the weekend, Cuomo announced he’s tacking on an additional $250 million in proposed investment for inclusion in the state budget to support public housing. This amount is on top of the $300 million he’s proposing after last week’s visit to a public housing development in the Bronx, where he saw unfavorable conditions.
“At one time, NYCHA was the model of public housing, and now conditions are at the worst they’ve ever been. Tenants living in these intolerable, inhumane conditions need help now—not in four years, and this administration is taking action to ensure a brighter future for New Yorkers,” Cuomo said during a speech at Taft Houses Saturday in East Harlem.
Tenant leaders were far from impressed with the governor’s promise, which they say barely scratches the surface.
“It’s very appreciated, but it’s a drop in the bucket,” Quinones said. “We go back to the city again and again and the city has to do much better. The problems in NYCHA are bad. The first thing we need to get is administration changed from the top down.”
Quinones’ frustration stems from what she alleges is mismanagement of funds by NYCHA. In 2014 when she became president of Douglass Houses, she received a budget letter which had $229,000. Quinones says the money was never touched, but when when she received the 2017 budget, only $89,000 was left. She alleges money was taken out and wants to know what happened.
Although she went to all avenues to find an answer as to where the money went, city officials and NYCHA haven’t given her an answer.
“They still haven’t told me where the money is,” she said. “They want us to sign an agreement, and I refuse to sign it when I don’t know where the money is.”
Tenant leaders also highlighted reduced money for the Tenant Participation Activity Fund provided by NYCHA through HUD for programming. Each development is supposed to receive $25 per resident as stipulated in NYCHA’s TPA guidebook per Part 964; however, leaders reported only getting $8 to $10 per resident.
“HUD has decreased the allocated funding and we don’t know why,” Topping said. “My concern is that NYCHA needs to go back to following the rules and regulations that HUD has already implemented. They don’t do a good enough job of that.”
Lozano said NYCHA isn’t keeping their end of the bargain in its own policy mandated by HUD, and it’s the residents who are hurting.
“What NYCHA has done is put themselves in a position where they are defying us all together,” she said. “They are not looking at the 964 and when I showed it to them, they said that’s not in the original book.”
President Donald Trump’s administration and Republican control are reducing funding to HUD. NYCHA’s overall operating budget is $3.2 billion and $2 billion of that comes from HUD. In Trump’s 2019 budget proposal, the Housing Operating Fund could see a $466 million cut from NYCHA’s operating budget. Trump also wants to cut funding to the Public Housing Capitol Fund entirely, taking out another $346 million meant for public housing repairs.
“With over $17 billion in capital need, NYCHA is already facing a daunting struggle to maintain its buildings,” NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye said in statement. “The president is walking away from that commitment and has shown once again that he is out of touch with most Americans’ experience.”
Community Service Society senior housing analyst Victor Bach agrees that although while the city should do its part, the federal government is playing a major role.
“NYCHA has been getting starvation funding from Washington for decades from previous administrations,” he said in an interview. “Locally, given the neglect of Washington, we would hope that the state and the city would kick in to address NYCHA’s $25 billion backlog in repairs. The state and city have to do their fair share to keep residents in their homes or else it would be disastrous.”
HUD responded to inquiries about funding for NYCHA. In a statement the federal agency said it’s working to provide funding to help NYCHA operate more efficiently.
“As part of its review of NYCHA’s annual plan, HUD is requiring the submission of a corrective action plan to address deficiencies in physical conditions, including lead-based paint inspections and remediation,” HUD said in a statement. “HUD is also working to leverage private financing through the Rental Assistance Demonstration that will address a portion of NYCHA’s underlying capital needs.”
When asked about federal government taking away funding from NYCHA, HUD said that Congress appropriates funding for public housing authorities each fiscal year and that funding has been declining since 2001.
When asked about the reduction in TPA funding in developments from the mandated $25 per resident, McNally said NYCHA is allowed to retain $10 per unit to administrate tenant participation funds. The remaining $15 is further reduced by operating subsidy prorations. For instance, if the proration was 90 percent, the resident association for a development would only be eligible for $13.50 per unit.
The AmNews reached out to NYCHA, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James and Gov. Cuomo about NYCHA funding and did not receive a response by press time.