Greg Russ, the chairman of the New York City Housing Authority, has asked the Legislature to OK the transfer of two-thirds of NYCHA developments to a new public-private corporation to protect the agency’s at-risk ability to fund badly needed repairs. City public-housing tenants deserve fast approval of the request.
The new arrangement would ensure that units badly in need of renovation get the work they need in rapid order.
The city’s public-housing stock is in serious decline, with some $13 billion worth of emergency repairs badly needed. One key reason for the shift Russ wants is that the partnerships, unlike NYCHA, can take out loans to pay for upgrades.
Since Bart Schwartz came in as the federal monitor and housing pro Gregory Russ took over as NYCHA chairman, the de Blasio administration has committed $2.2 billion in capital funding over the next 10 years and Gov. Cuomo released $450 million to fix elevators and replace boilers. Every little bit helps, but those are drops in the bucket of NYCHA’s estimated $40 billion repair hole. (The feds send the agency about $1.5 billion a year in operating aid.)
Current federal Housing Secretary Ben Carson has endorsed NYCHA’s pursuit of a public-private partnership and encouraged placing more developments into the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration program.
That program, created by the Obama administration, is a major step away from the traditional public-housing model so long dominant in New York City — the model that saw so many NYCHA buildings decay horribly. Russ is an enthusiastic supporter of using RAD, which shifts buildings to private management while doing major repairs.
Don’t believe the naysayers. More privatization is the only way to save the best affordable-housing option for low-income individuals and families.
An important next step is for Russ to implement the stalled NYCHA 2.0 plan, which looks to generate $2 billion by leasing underused land (parking lots, lawns, etc.) to private developers to build new affordable housing units.
Another scathing report this month from the city’s Department of Investigation about the public housing agency’s years-long lead-paint cover-up served to highlight the dangerous neglect endured by tenants. And Public Advocate Jumaane Williams just listed NYCHA again on his “Worst Landlords Watchlist.”
After years of public-housing neglect, tenants are beset by intolerable conditions — lead exposure, mold, leaky roofs, broken elevators and bouts of no hot water, heat or cooking gas. This new public-private entity may be public housing’s last best chance to survive.
State legislative leaders must do the right thing and grant NYCHA the authority to create it — or find a way to fund the repairs themselves. The clock is ticking.