One Assemblyman’s NYCHA Solution

The most recent call was about bedbugs. But Beverly Macfarlane, president of the Resident Assembly at East Harlem’s Taft Houses, estimates she gets 40 to 50 calls a day, from 6 in the morning until around 7 in the evening. Most of them are about a lack of hot water, doors that don’t lock, moldy bathrooms, leaking ceilings, and chipping lead paint. Like New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments all over the city, the Taft Houses have fallen into deep disrepair. 

“We are unable to get the needs expedited because there is not capital, money, funding from anywhere,” said Macfarlane. “Here at Taft we have over 1,600 units, so it’s a great need.” 

A New York state assembly bill announced Monday aims to address this need—by eliminating a tax break given to some luxury cooperative and condominium owners. Introduced by Assembly member Robert J. Rodriguez, a Manhattan Democrat, the bill proposes cutting the tax abatement given to the wealthiest 10% of cooperative and condominium owners owners, generating an estimated $172 million for public housing repairs.

Currently condo and coop owners of all values can qualify for a Cooperative and Condominium Property Tax Abatement. Properties assessed at $50,000 or less can qualify for a 28.1% property tax benefit per year. Properties of higher value receive a lower percent benefit, and those assessed at $60,001 and above can get an average of 17.5% benefit per year. Rodriguez’s plan cuts this benefit for the wealthiest 10% of all of these owners.

Rodriguez announced the bill at a press conference in front of the Taft Houses Monday morning, stating that NYCHA was in crisis and facing a “severe funding gap.” Also present were members of several housing advocate groups, including Community Voices Heard, Community Service Society of New York, Citizens Housing Planning Council, and New York Housing Conference.

NYCHA says that it has faced “decades of federal disinvestment.” In 2017 a spokesperson announced that the government was chopping $35 million from its funding. NYCHA officials estimate that it will need to make at least $17 billion worth of “major repairs.” From Harlem to the Bronx, NYCHA houses have fallen into disrepair as the money dried up.

In its Annual Agency Plan for Fiscal Year 2019, released in October 2018, NYCHA posited a funding solution—partial privatization. Under this plan NYCHA will would convert the familiar public housing projects–buildings that are funded and administered by NYCHA—to a “Rental Assistance Demonstration” program that would provide government subsidies for privately owned property. In some parts of New York this is already happening

Assembly member Rodriguez’s bill is another approach. The bill comes as the cooperative and condominium property tax abatement is set to expire in the spring. “This is something we would normally extend in a perfunctory manner, but it’s really an opportunity to revisit how this program is structured,” said Rodriguez.

Speaking of the wealthy homeowners he said: “It’s really something that they won’t even miss in that refund check; they will not miss it.” For the top owners in question the tax abatement would amount to around a 17.5% tax benefit.

The bill is structured so that the savings from the demise of the tax break would go into special fund controlled by the Commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, who would then authorize payments to NYCHA for repairs.

Rodriguez said he sponsored the bill because his 68th Assembly District in Upper East Manhattan has more public housing than any other district in the state and, “we don’t see any change happening fast enough.”

Beverly Macfarlane hopes the bill will come to pass, and that funding will come to NYCHA soon. She considers the lack of funding a safety issue, and spoke about the danger of unlockable doors and malfunctioning elevators. “I have residents calling me every day with the aggravation and the frustration of them not having any [repairs] expedited or anything,” she said. “This is a persistent issue.”