The cost of NYCHA

Continuing our conversation about the the differences between Bloomberg and de Blasio’s housing plan, as well as ways we can make a difference on our own communities in response.

You can’t discuss any housing plan in NYC and leave out public housing and the challenges the organization and its tenants face daily.

In May of 2015 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) released their own plan called NextGen, an outline describing how to get the public housing in NYC back on track.

For years they have struggled to handle the country's largest public housing, along with an operating deficit of tens of millions of dollars. This deficit is a major reason why they divert funding from repairs just to cover their operating costs.

Their tenants have paid the price. Like all landlords, NYCHA’s first responsibility should be its tenants - not covering administrative costs.

With HUD cuts just announced, NYCHA has to get their house in order and tighten its belt to make sure it can care for the thousands of people and families that rely on them.

In a Gothamist article released in March, NYCHA confirmed a $35 million cut in funding from HUD. According to NYCHA, the loss is $27.7 million in operating funds, funds which would go towards janitorial salaries, plumbing, electricity, mold and lead paint remediation, and other daily repairs. It is now at least $14 million in the red.

This is the first of many expected cuts. "And so it begins," said Comptroller Scott Stringer in a statement. "We all have long known that leadership in Washington seeks to shred the social safety net by slashing funding for those who need it most."

Many who have lived or have visited a NYCHA building know the truth in the horror stories. It generally takes a lawsuit to get repairs completed. Tenants are waiting months for simple repairs, only to be told it will be another few months before they are completed.

Amongst tenants living in their buildings the agency is known for its inability to coordinate and complete serious repairs for its 178,000 apartments.

In an apartment building in Manhattan, the Daily News tells the story of an unnamed resident whose apartment became uninhabitable by most standards. Water flowed behind the walls, blowing out the bathroom light and causing plaster to flake and collapse throughout the apartment. Eventually the kitchen cabinets started pulling away from the walls. Electric wall sockets in every room except one ceased to function.

The average number of days it takes a carpenter to get a job done is now 105, up from 70 last year. Plasterers average 112 days, up from 83 last year. Painters have held steady at 93 days. To anyone who has worked in the private sector, those numbers are painfully slow. With production numbers this high, it's no wonder NYCHA's in the red.

However, it’s not only trade repairs which are needed. Marina Torres is a 76 year old resident of Hope Gardens who had to climb 12 flights of stairs to get to her apartment when the elevator was not repaired. "They don't clean, they don't fix," she stated in an article run by DNA. The same article reported city workers refused to meet with approximately two hundred public housing tenants demanding they show up at a Sunday assembly in April to discuss basic repairs needed in common areas at Hope Gardens building complex.

Poking around online lead me to and while some complaints seem superficial, most are not. One titled as “mold in my apartment/tickets closed out without being serviced” from April of this year stood out.

In the same month NYCHA launched a program called “Mold Busters” to combat mold in their buildings, which seems unlikely until they can manage basic repairs, like water leaks.

According to their own press release NYCHA states, “The prevalence of mold in NYCHA developments is directly connected to the Authority’s aging infrastructure, such as roofs, facades, ventilation systems and pipes. NYCHA developments have roofs that have not been replaced in 20 years, facades that are no longer sealing the building from rainwater, antiquated ventilation systems that do not properly work, and decaying in-wall piping. All of which contribute to leaks and mold. Unfortunately, due to federal and state disinvestment, NYCHA has a $17 billion infrastructure budget gap. The President recently proposed a devastating budget cut that would further reduce funding for repairs by over 60 percent to only about $100 million annually to address all $17 billion of infrastructure needs.”

Although the cuts are damaging and painful, NYCHA can do a great deal with the funds it HAS, but the organization needs to do what it asks of it's tenants: Do more with less.

So what can be done? I believe the answer comes in two parts.

First, while residents often complain about getting the run around while dealing with NYCHA, head to your local Community Board meeting instead (which we’ll go into in our next post).

While you are there speak with your Councilmember, they can be found attending these meetings. By using all of the tools at your disposal, you can build a grassroots voice and gather with your community members so everyone is taken care of.

There are also a number local non-profits which can help. I have found them to be very helpful in information gathering and resource discovery. The Furman Center has a list that I have found to be very helpful.

Second, with the underfunding happening in Washington there are a lot of local contractors who are working for NYCHA who care to help. By coordinating their efforts more closely, NYCHA staff can keep their own price points low, can ensure more tenants are served and more tickets get taken care of correctly the first time. Removing the waste of time and money that seems to be plaguing the agency.

To register a complaint with NYCHA. If you’ve registered a complaint but have had no luck, contact Legal Aid.

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