Based on resident audits and the latest federal monitor report, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments can stand to improve in areas of repairs and maintenance, security, sanitation and sustainability. Things that the agency is slow to address due to a deficit in funds.
City Comptroller Brad Lander’s office convened a NYCHA Audit Resident Committee that surveys developments in each borough. The biggest complaints from 795 residents in 132 buildings were that repairs are not done on time; and sanitation, safety and repair tickets are often closed without work being completed. The survey asked “nearly 50%” of residents who have lived in NYCHA for over 20 years.
“NYCHA residents are the experts on what is broken in our public housing authority, and they must be part of the solutions. By partnering directly with residents, our resident-powered audits will aim to move the needle forward on the much-needed repairs, resources, services, investments and quality of life issues that matter most to the people who call NYCHA home,” said Lander in a statement.
Complaints detailed sanitation and maintenance issues with cleanliness, pests, elevators, door locks, scaffolding, intercoms, mold, contractor oversight, construction materials and Hurricane Sandy repair funds. They asked for more initiatives to address speeding, gun violence, e-bike safety concerns, smoke-free building protocols, availability of translation services, and long vacant units not being repaired or rented.
“They applied to all of us across the board,” said Karim Couser, a resident of Johnson Houses in East Harlem, told City Limits. “The lobby doors aren’t locked.”
The resident survey has prompted a field review of building entry doors at NYCHA developments. The Comptroller’s Office found that nearly 60% of residential building entrance doors were open and/or had broken locks. That number was up dramatically from 23.5% in a similar field review from 2018.
Among their concerns, residents want to know where rent goes and what capital dollars are spent on. The City recently reported on how NYCHA’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program rent collection shortfall of over $400 million is also affecting the pacing of repairs.
NYCHA’s Budget Book estimates a smaller $35 million deficit for 2022, but expects it to increase in coming years. The 2022 NYCHA adopted budget is $12.24 billion, broken down into the operating and capital budgets. The operating budget is $4.18 billion. The capital budget is the 5-year plan for the adopted budget in 2022 at $8.06 billion. The projected deficit falls under the operating budget, which encompasses the areas of personnel services (PS) and pays for salaries and non-personnel costs (OTPS). The PS budget is $1.54 billion.
Finally, the OTPS budget pays for the Authority which is the entity that handles payments for utilities at the developments, contract services, painting, elevator maintenance, fire safety, plumbing and heating services, insurance, equipment and consulting services. The OTPS dishes out payments to private landlords participating in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. This section of the budget is $2.64 billion.
Councilmember Alexa Avilés, who chairs the public housing committee, said that NYCHA sorely needs more operating funds to train and hire additional staff to improve decades of deferred maintenance. According to Aviles’ office, the challenges that have presented since the pandemic slowed down repair work and staffing for all agencies including NYCHA.
“It’s no surprise that residents who responded to the comptroller’s survey listed improperly closed tickets as a top concern. Like we’ve seen with the recent Federal Monitor’s report, investing staff time and resources in maintenance can bring about significant reductions in time spent responding to emergencies,” said Aviles.
In 2019, NYCHA was placed under a federal monitor in collaboration with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. They have worked together to develop real-time performance reporting on onsite heating, unplanned boiler and elevator outages as well as removing lead paint, eradicating mice and roaches, and mold and leaks. In the 2022 federal monitor report, the team said it has been identifying problems with NYCHA’s capital processes, “some of which do not reflect industry best practices.”
They said that since 2019, project schedules for heating system, elevator replacement and waste management haven’t been approved by the City’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), significantly delaying repairs.
“NYCHA and the Monitor’s efforts to track progress towards the goals of the HUD agreement represent progress on some fronts and ongoing persistent problems in other areas,” said Aviles.
In response to an Amsterdam News’ inquiry, a NYCHA spokesperson said that during COVID in 2020, NYCHA followed all federal, state and local health guidance. NYCHA halted evictions, increased sanitation, redesigned interim and annual recertification to make it simpler for residents, discontinued 31,000 non-payment housing cases, and submitted more than 31,330 ERAP applications totaling $120 million, said the spokesperson.
“Improving our ability to successfully deliver critical services for our residents has been a key focus of NYCHA’s Transformation Plan and we look forward to collaborating with the comptroller and our partners in the city around these issues,” said the spokesperson.
As part of NYCHA’s Transformation Plan, the Work Order Reform program aims to make faster repairs with fewer delays.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1