Local Politicians Want to Pump Funds into NYCHA

Local politicians want to pump $500 million into NYCHA’s repair process after a report came out Thursday detailing unsafe conditions in five NYCHA housing developments.

The plan aims at redirecting money to the underfunded NYCHA, restoring state aid, beginning an incentives program for private developers, and creating a NYCHA watchdog agency.

In a 19-page report deeming NYCHA the “Worst Landlord in NYC,” State Senator Jeffrey Klein and Council Member Ritchie Torres unveiled the comprehensive plan at a news conference on Thursday, showing a series of photographs that documented various unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the housing developments.

(Cara McGoogan / NY City Lens)

Senator Jeffrey Klein (center) and Councilman Ritchie Torres (third from left) proposed a plan to give $500 million to NYCHA to fix a long backlist of work orders. (Cara McGoogan / NY City Lens)

“Right now we have a Byzantine system for making repairs,” Klein told reporters.

Klein said employees in his office visited five housing developments, one in each borough chosen at random, and documented the conditions. Infractions ranged from a basement full of flies that constantly bit a woman’s children and debris from recent fires to unsafe lighting in stairwells and fire exits without easy access.

“To watch these images is to witness the decline of the New York Housing Authority,” said Torres, who is originally from the Throgs Neck Houses in the Bronx.  His mother is still a resident there.

NYCHA manages 179,000 apartment units at 334 developments. With 600,000 tenants, nearly the population of Boston, NYCHA is the largest landlord in the city. It is not inspected by the Department of Buildings.

Klein and Torres outlined the Independent Democratic Conference’s multi-point plan called “NYCHA 2020” to address the issues. The IDC, an independent caucus of five Democratic senators from New York, is partnering with the Real Affordability for All Coalition, Community Services Society of New York (CSS) and Community Voices Heard.

Of the $500 million, $250 million will come from the state in capital funding. The remaining $250 million will, Klein hopes, be put up by New York City as matching funds. All of the money will go toward repairs, upgrades, and reconstruction at the housing offices. Torres’ and Klein’s plan additionally urges the state to match operating cost savings that NYCHA acquires through the 2020 plan.

The plan calls for the restoration of $12 million in state aid to NYCHA by 2020. As early as 1998, under former Gov. George Pataki, state funding was cut for 12,000 apartments stemming from a perception that NYCHA had all the funds it needed. This was further exacerbated in 2007 when former Gov. Eliot Spitzer granted NYCHA just $3.2 million of the $62 million it requested for daily operations.

The city also pulled funding for 8,000 more units a few years later. As a result, NYCHA had to dip into reserve funding, meant for unexpected and emergency costs. From 2001 to 2006, it used $414 million of its reserves.

Because of significant decreases in funding, NYCHA has made staff cuts–and as a result it takes much longer for repairs to be completed. The wait time for repairs in NYCHA housing is currently as long as two years, with the longest repairs in the Grant Houses in Manhattan, according to New York Daily News. The backlog of repairs is nearly 420,000.

One reason for the pervasive maintenance issues is a lack of oversight of NYCHA, as well as poor transparency at state and city levels.

“We deserve and the tenants deserve a clear and transparent reform plan,” Klein said.

Klein and Torres’s plan addresses this by  calling for the creation of an independent NYCHA watchdog organization. It would compile an annual public report of conditions in each NYCHA housing development, including tracking repairs, that would be given to the city council, mayor’s office, and the Department of Housing and Community Renewal.

To provide incentive for faster repairs, Klein and Torres hope to allow private developers to “adopt” a housing project and receive a zoning bonus for any repair work they do at the development.

Separately from this plan, an unspecified amount of money from the city will go to five NYCHA houses–Wagner, Lincoln, Jefferson, Wilson, and East River–in a city-funded pilot program that will allow individual property managers at housing developments to oversee repairs. The property managers now have their own budgets to attend to housing maintenance in an attempt to speed up repair time. The program’s funding came from a $101 million payout to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office from BNP Paribas for violating United States sanctions against Sudan, Cuba, and Iran. Funds will go towards new doors, exterior lighting, entryways, and the placement of security cameras in elevators, indoors, and outdoors.

NYCHA is hardly unfamiliar with accusations of negligence. Over $27 million was allocated in 2013 for the installment of security cameras in over 49 public housing developments by the end of 2014. The NY Daily News reported that as of June 2014, not a single camera had gone up.

In a statement via email, a NYCHA spokesman said the agency recognizes the importance of the unsafe and unsanitary conditions and attributed them to underfunding.  It said it has “streamlined repairs and made safety and security upgrades” with support from Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“There is still much more work to be done,” an agency representative said in a statement. “We look forward to working with IDC and all state-elected officials, the City Council, our residents, and all stakeholders to ensure we can obtain the additional resources needed to repair and preserve this vital resource.”

Yvonne Juris contributed to reporting.