Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/643 Tue, 24 Oct 2017 07:32:26 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Dissecting Mayor De Blasio's Record As He Seeks Reelection http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7221:dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7221:dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection Mayor de Blasio Chirlane McCray City Hall Reelection Parade

Mayor Bill de Blasio & First Lady Chirlane McCray (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


As Mayor Bill de Blasio, a first-term Democrat, seeks reelection this fall, a close examination of his record is essential. De Blasio came into power promising to address inequlality in a variety of forms, including income, educational, policing, racial, and opportunity inequities he identified during his 2013 campaign. In this year's election de Blasio is running in part on his record, which is headlined by the implementation of his campaign promise to provide universal pre-kindergarten for the city's four-year-olds. But, there is much more to the mayor's record than UPK, which has clearly been his biggest success.

In this series, Gotham Gazette, with election coverage partners City Limits and WNYC radio, examines de Blasio's record on a variety of important issues. While this is not completely exhaustive, it should be helpful to voters and others seeking to evaluate de Blasio this fall. With our partners, Gotham Gazette will release articles and audio pieces on the following aspects of de Blasio's record -- those already published are linked below.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.

  • Poverty & Inequality (Gotham Gazette, coming soon)
  • Budgeting & Fiscal Health (Gotham Gazette, coming soon)
  • NYCHA (Gotham Gazette, coming soon)
  • Environment & Sustainability (City Limits, coming soon)

More to read/view/hear:

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Dissecting Mayor De Blasio's Record As He Seeks Reelection Sun, 22 Oct 2017 23:26:52 +0000
Nonprofit Supporting NYCHA Adds to Early Fundraising & Programs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7160:nonprofit-supporting-nycha-adds-to-early-fundraising-programs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7160:nonprofit-supporting-nycha-adds-to-early-fundraising-programs NYCHA Fund for Public Housing

Rasmia Krimani-Frye, center, at the farm at Bayview Houses


More than a year-and-a-half after the Fund for Public Housing officially began soliciting donors, the nonprofit has raised approximately $1.5 million, according to New York City Housing Authority Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye.

Appearing recently on the “What’s the [Data] Point?” podcast with Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget commission, Olatoye explained that the 501(c)3, established to support NYCHA operations and community programming, is showing encouraging growth.

In a subsequent interview with Gotham Gazette, Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, the founding president of the Fund for Public Housing, said the nonprofit has begun to establish “a body of work” that now includes partnerships with tech startups, plans for the construction of new playgrounds, efforts to create a “leadership academy” for residents, and more.

Launched in the model of public-private partnerships that supplement city services, like the Fund for Public Health and the Fund for Public Education, the Fund for Public Housing seeks philanthropic donations targeted to benefit NYCHA residents and acts as a fast track for potential NYCHA programs. “It is really hard sometimes in government to try new things and iterate quickly,” Kirmani-Frye explained.

While NYCHA has recently corrected operating deficits, showing one sign of better fiscal footing, and has a comprehensive -- and somewhat controversial -- plan in place, Next Generation NYCHA, the country’s largest public housing system is facing a $17 billion capital budget gap and anticipates future cuts in federal funding.

Because the authority’s massive infrastructure need is, as Olatoye says, “a public sector and private sector capital intensive assignment,” the Fund exists to complement the larger NextGen NYCHA plan through community development, resources for public housing residents, improvements to quality of life and access to opportunity. These are causes donors and organizations are more inclined to give towards than the mold removal, new roofs, and boiler replacements that make up large chunks of the authority’s capital need.

Accepting its first donations in January 2016, the Fund had amassed $900,000 as of last October. It managed a number of small projects, which included growing the Virtual Vita initiative, a free tax preparation program for low-income New Yorkers, as well as updating design guidelines for NYCHA buildings (Citi Community Development and Deutsche Bank contributed funding to these two projects, respectively).

Almost a year later, the Fund’s current war chest of $1.5 million is a few drops in the bucket towards its initial goal of $200 million. However, Kirmani-Frye explained that the goal “really was just a number that we came up with to get people’s attention. Honestly, this is what it would take to transform and invest in public housing in a different way. Then, we quickly moved to what we could do in a year…It was a big flag.”

Emphasizing that her organization is still a “baby,” Kirmani-Frye added that she and her partners have spent their first year trying to “get an audience.” In addition to highlighting its coverage in The New York Times, she pointed to their recent selection as one of Fast Company’s top 10 most innovative non-profits of 2017.

The Fund has also held a number of fundraising events, including a “salon dinner” hosted by board member Liz Neumark, founder and CEO of a New York City-based catering and creative events company, as well as a happy hour hosted by the Fund’s 30-person advisory board.

Most notably, the Fund is leveraging NYCHA “alumni” as donors and spokespeople. These are people “that have grown up in public housing who have gone to do both extraordinary and ordinary things,” Olatoye explained. While former residents Lloyd C. Blankfein, Jay-Z, and Howard Schultz have yet to contribute to the nonprofit, recent successes include actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg and the current New York City Department of Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary Travis Bassett.

Other than raising public awareness for the necessity of public housing, the Fund has added new projects to its portfolio that, Olatoye says, sustain its focus on improving residents’ “well-being through the investment in people, place, and work.”

In June of this year, it hosted a tech panel in conjunction with MetaProp and Urban Tech Hub. With approximately 80 people in attendance, 10 startups came to pitch ideas to improve NYCHA’s buildings and the lives of its residents. Companies like Radiator Labs and ThinkEco proposed solutions to minimize the cost of heating and cooling in NYCHA buildings. Others like hOM suggested on-demand amenities, including fitness classes and monthly social events. Kirmani-Frye did not specify, but said seven of the 10 were “selected to pilot their product/idea at NYCHA.”

The Fund has also partnered with KaBOOM!, a nonprofit that constructs eco-friendly playgrounds, to secure funding for the creation of one in both 2017 and 2018. As of August 11th, Olatoye said they had raised $75,000 for the future “play spaces” and wanted to raise another $75,000 by the end of that week.

In addition to improving physical space offerings on NYCHA properties, a pending program supported by current City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in partnership with the City University of New York aims to form a “leadership academy” that offers NYCHA residents a suite of free, for-credit classes on topics like community organizing and public policy. Another, inspired by NYCHA’s Food Pathways program, is led by aforementioned board member Liz Neumark. This “food working group” aims to help residents find jobs not only as entrepreneurs, but as members more broadly in the food, beverage, and hospitality industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these jobs will soon outnumber those in manufacturing.

Kirmani-Frye said the “crux of all this work is developing relationships” and that “people and investors and companies and whoever are welcome to come and talk about how they to want invest and contribute to public housing.”

Olatoye said similarly and noted that the Fund for Public Housing is hoping to find a game-changing donor soon. “We absolutely are seeking some additional, significant—I like to say—earth-moving investments,” Olatoye said on the podcast. “We have some good leads out there.”

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by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

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Nonprofit Supporting NYCHA Adds to Early Fundraising & Programs Mon, 28 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [DATA] Point? $17 Billion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7119:what-s-the-data-point-17-billion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7119:what-s-the-data-point-17-billion whats the data point


What's The Data Point? Episode 8 -- $17 Billion, [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

For this episode of the podcast, we were joined by Shola Olatoye, chair and CEO of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the country's largest public housing authority, with over 400,000 people residing in its thousands of units across the city. Olatoye took over at NYCHA in 2014, soon after Mayor de Blasio took office and appointed her to the position, facing massive challenges, including about $17 billion in needed capital repairs to NYCHA properties and operating budget deficits. Olatoye explained her approach to leading NYCHA and a variety of specific initiatives and issues.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis (@MariaDoulis) of CBC (@cbcny), and special guest Shola Olatoye (@SholaOlatoye & @NYCHA).

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [DATA] Point? $17 Billion Thu, 10 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Our Plan To Save NYCHA Is Working, But Under Attack http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6932:the-plan-to-save-public-housing-is-under-attack http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6932:the-plan-to-save-public-housing-is-under-attack NYCHA board meeting

A NYCHA board meeting


Residents understand better than anyone what it means to live in public housing. On the second anniversary of the NextGeneration NYCHA long-term strategic plan, we find our homes under attack from the federal government.

As both residents and board members of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), we have unique insight into the challenges facing the housing authority, but also the successes of NextGen NYCHA. Two years ago, when Mayor de Blasio and NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye stood in front of residents, they announced a bold plan to put us on stable financial footing. They set out a path to better fund, operate, rebuild and engage developments. And despite numerous obstacles, as residents, we can say firmly, we have made progress.

NYCHA has increased revenue by almost $33 million, saved millions and become more efficient by implementing new technology, protected buildings by building new roofs, built almost 1,500 new affordable apartments, started 10 youth councils and placed almost 6,000 residents in new jobs. NYCHA and the brave officers of the NYPD have worked together to come up with new ways to secure developments and keep our families safer. When you mention funding as well as advances in technology and job placements there is still the human element to be considered. The list could go on.

What’s important though, is that residents are starting to feel these changes and feel their voices are being heard. Their vision is being broadened, resulting in a greater sense of responsibility for their environment, and ultimately residents feeling empowered to bring about change. NYCHA is listening to residents and is genuine in their mission to change the way they do business. Everyday they’re becoming better landlords. That doesn’t mean there isn’t work left to be done - there is. But we know that with Chair Olatoye and the team she and the mayor have put in place, they are moving in the right direction and lives are improving as a result.

Despite this remarkable progress, our buildings are in poor condition because of years of neglect by the federal government. Our roofs sag, the facades are crumbling and the pipes leak. Now, the president has proposed cutting over two-thirds of the budget dedicated to keeping our buildings standing, the capital budget. This is not about politics or parties, it’s about dismantling the future of public housing and jeopardizing the progress we’ve made on our long-term plan NextGen NYCHA. It is a horrific message to send to those who are the backbone of our society. In its simplest terms, these proposed cuts would lead to higher numbers of homelessness.

We are calling firmly on our partners to stand proudly with NYCHA and demand the federal government fully fund public housing. Obstruction and budget cuts are not the road ahead for solving the housing crisis in the city. For many, NYCHA is what stands between them and homelessness. With over half a million residents, NYCHA housing is the size of Miami, and will always have room for improvement, but it is essential that we consider humanity first, before economics. If public housing isn't adequately funded, we will devastate working families, counter to the roots of public housing in our city and country. During this crisis, when the very existence of public housing is threatened, it’s time to come together to protect the lowest income New Yorkers and save NYCHA.

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The authors are Resident Board Members of the New York City Housing Authority.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Our Plan To Save NYCHA Is Working, But Under Attack Sun, 14 May 2017 23:50:24 +0000
NYCHA Shifts to Modernized Resident Funds Program http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6683:nycha-shifts-to-modernized-resident-funds-program http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6683:nycha-shifts-to-modernized-resident-funds-program NYCHA Shola Olatoye digital van

At a NYCHA development with CEO Olatoye (photo via NYCHA on flickr)


In an effort to digitize its workforce and operations, the New York City Housing Authority announced a new process for allocating tenant participation funds. Beginning in January, NYCHA -- whose properties are home to about a half-million New Yorkers -- will manage funds that go to resident associations through an online system, similar to an online banking account.

Through this new process, NYCHA will provide each resident association president with a credit card with a maximum spending limit that is proportional to the size of the development. In part, the move is aimed at quicker and better use of such funds, which can help improve quality of life at public housing developments.

The federal government, through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, allocates to NYCHA $25 per unit for tenant participation, 60 percent of which goes to developments, 40 percent to NYCHA central operating. Most resident associations receive between a few thousand and many tens of thousands of dollars.

There are 253 resident associates representing 270 NYCHA developments (of 328 total) citywide, and they plan various activities to engage residents and address hyperlocal concerns. Each RA’s executive board is democratically elected and usually consists of a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and sergeant-at-arms. Tenant participation funds allow residents of housing developments to plan and hold events like family days, skill-building trainings, and after-school programs, and to get involved within their communities.

Prior to this modernized process, RA presidents submitted paper requests, which then went through more than two dozen steps, including for approval from NYCHA’s procurement department. Even if the funding request was minor, the procurement department, which is responsible for major construction project and other contracts, would have to handle the tenants’ requests.

Now, with a digital system, RA presidents will be able to more easily view and spend their funds, and NYCHA will be able to track spending in real-time. The move is one step in the NextGeneration NYCHA plan announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye in May 2015. NextGen includes a wide variety of steps to improve and modernize the public housing authority while getting it onto more secure financial footing.

Sideya Sherman, NYCHA’s Executive Vice President for Community Engagement & Partnerships, said this new process will generate more forward-thinking visions for communities.

“This new, modernized process will be more efficient, more effective, more transparent, and more equitable,” Sherman said. “These changes will empower our residents to generate and then actualize more forward-thinking, long-term community-based visions for their developments, ensuring best use of available resources throughout the year.”

NYCHA will now require resident association presidents to create both quarterly and annual spending plans that must be scrutinized and approved before funds are used. The housing authority hopes to encourage resident associations to think ahead long-term and use available funds efficiently.

RA presidents and board members will receive financial training by NYCHA to learn ways to plan for future events, report spending, and properly document finances.

Chaney Yelverton, RA president at Morrisania Air Rights in the Bronx, said this new policy recognizes that residents “have the best sense” of what their community deems important.

“These changes are necessary because NYCHA doesn’t have the time or staff to accommodate all the needs of the residents,” Yelverton said. “Putting these funds in the hands of the residents, who have the best sense of a development’s needs, will make sure that these improvements and resident-focused activities happen in a timelier, more efficient manner. This process––now just a few steps, instead of more steps than you can count––will give residents a direct window into all available funds so resident associations can make the most efficient plans based on the resources they know are available.”

All 253 resident associations in the 270 developments citywide will participate in this new digital process. Earlier this month, NYCHA outlined a plan to distribute $13 million in unspent tenant participation funds from this year proportionally to developments, and will allocate additional funds beginning in the new year.

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by Devin Gannon for Gotham Gazette

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NYCHA Shifts to Modernized Resident Funds Program Wed, 21 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Nascent Fund for Public Housing Begins Building NYCHA War Chest http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6638:nascent-fund-for-public-housing-begins-building-nycha-war-chest http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6638:nascent-fund-for-public-housing-begins-building-nycha-war-chest nycha tree-planting

Tree-planting at NYCHA (photo via NYCHA on flickr)


Five months after the announcement of NextGeneration NYCHA, the comprehensive overhaul plan for New York City’s troubled public housing system, the Fund for Public Housing accepted its first donation. Shola Olatoye, NYCHA Chair and CEO, and Rasmia Kirmani Frye, the founding president of the Fund, welcomed the support for the new public-private partnership that aims to “improve social service delivery and access to economic opportunity for residents.”

In January, the Fund, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, officially began reaching out to donors, and, according to Kirmani-Frye, raised almost $900,000 as of late October. It is an effort to supplement the cash-strapped public housing authority by tapping private donors, attempting to lure philanthropists to NYCHA, where about half-a-million people live.

Public-private partnerships are not new to New York City; former Mayor Rudy Giuliani created the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the Fund for Public Schools and the Fund for Public Health. The public-private funds serve to help fill different needs in the city: the Mayor’s Fund is currently focused on youth employment, mental health, and immigration; the Fund for Public Schools helps raise money for banner de Blasio administration programs like Computer Science for All and Pre-K for all; the Fund for Public Health implements targeted programs aimed at reducing asthma in low-income homes or preventing teen pregnancy in the South Bronx.

The Fund for Public Housing, which, according to the NextGen NYCHA goals, aims to raise $200 million in its first three years, will take a modest approach to addressing some of the most pressing needs at the public housing authority, which includes 328 developments and 178,000 units across the five boroughs.

According to Kirmani-Frye, a former director of the Brownsville Partnership, the “three lenses or buckets that we see and fulfill that mission are through people, place, and work.” The Fund could create programs that reach NYCHA residents faster than government initiatives might. NYCHA’s $17 billion capital budget gap is not something that the Fund will address directly, Kirmani-Frye said, indicating the Fund is focused more on programs and policies than physical building needs, as great as they may be.

Some of the largest donations to the Fund have thus far come from major international banks. Deutsche Bank donated $100,000 to update NYCHA design guidelines in order to improve resident quality of life, enhance sustainability, and reduce operating costs. Citi Community Development, a charitable offshoot of Citibank, contributed $250,000 to the Fund to support earned income tax credit access for NYCHA residents through the expansion of the Virtual Vita initiative, a tax preparation program for low-income New Yorkers. Capital One provided $25,000 to establish youth councils in NYCHA.

But beyond the large companies and foundations, the Fund is also looking to drum up support from past NYCHA residents. Olatoye, the NYCHA CEO, said, “the Lloyd Blankfein's and the Jay-Z's of the world” are the types of successful former NYCHA residents who could be especially helpful to their former communities. The Fund is also looking to find donors in “the ordinary folks who are doing great things...who but for public housing, their families' trajectory and their lives would be drastically different,” Olatoye said.

Jeff Levine, the chair of Douglaston Development, Levine Builders, and Clinton Management, sees himself as one of those people. Levine lived in Brooklyn’s Linden Houses from four- to ten-years-old, and recently donated $100,000 to provide scholarships for NYCHA residents attending the CUNY School of Architecture. Levine, whose businesses are behind major development projects in New York City, said of NYCHA, “I'm very grateful having had the opportunity to have lived there for a period of my life, and I appreciate that my education is completely public education.”

Appealing to donors like Levine may be crucial if The Fund for Public Housing wants to reach the $200 million goal. According to Kirmani-Frye, “New Yorkers really recognize the value of other systems with the word public in front of it: public transportation, public education, but not as much public housing.” But Kirmani-Frye points out the people who live in public housing make many other public systems run. She says a “big goal of the Fund is to change the narrative and challenge the assumption that people have about public housing.”

At the New York Times City Visions conference, Kirmani-Frye echoed this sentiment, pointing out that the top three employers of NYCHA residents are the NYPD, the city Department of Education, and NYCHA itself.

The average NYCHA resident makes $23,300 annually. As of January 2015, 11% of all families received welfare assistance, and 46.9% of families had one or more members who were employed. Programs like Opportunity NYCHA help residents find employment and enroll in adult education classes about entrepreneurship. The Fund for Public Housing is part of a set of programs and strategies aimed at improving economic opportunity and outcomes for NYCHA residents.

With her typical optimism, Olatoye recalled that she was “at a conference on innovation and government, and the gentleman next to [Kirmani-Frye] leaned over and said ‘Hey I grew up in the Bland Houses in Queens, I live in Minnesota now, and want to help you.’”

“The reality is philanthropy is very self-connected, so to speak,” Levine said. But he thinks the work the Fund is doing to get the word out is vital. “My children, as a result of their awareness in my involvement in public housing are themselves involved in these efforts, so it can expand. It takes awareness.”

The Fund’s board may show the different channels the Fund can tap into; it includes figures in tech, social work, and health care, as well as residents of NYCHA. Scott Anderson is a board member and a co-Founder of Intersection, the company behind Link-NYC, the public wi-fi kiosks popping up all over the city. Anderson is interested in seeing expanded internet access to NYCHA residencies, something that has been a priority for Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration.

In an email, Anderson said “Public access to the internet at home will help all boats rise. We will actively be looking at additional sources of funding for Wi-Fi and other digital initiatives.” NYCHA has invested $10 million to provide free internet to five of its developments, but according to Olatoye, only half of NYCHA residents have internet, paid or free, in their homes.

Diallo Powell, a board member and a co-founder of the healthcare start-up Zipari joined the fund after meeting Kirmani-Frye through a mutual acquaintance. One of the biggest questions for Powell was whether the Fund could help start “initiatives that can actually be sustainable. And return not only value but revenue.”

Right now, Powell sees his role on the board as a middleman, making connections between the board and potential donors. “I think just overall partnerships are the most important thing because at the end of the day it's not Ras and Shola doing this, it's finding groups of people, finding the right groups to make connections with who have a track record.”

That track record may start with NYCHA, which has several programs that the Fund is interested in scaling to include more residents. Olatoye thinks that the Food Business Pathways program is one of such initiatives. Olatoye explains the rationale behind the program: “Essentially, we have all these emerging entrepreneurs in our developments. They cook for the church event, or they cater the cupcakes for the local birthday parties. A couple years ago folks realized that there was a number of them, and they were actually like small businesses. So why don't we actually create a pathway to actually create real businesses for these people?”

The Food Pathways Program has, according to Olatoye, already trained 300 people to join the city’s food industry, and 50% of those people have gone on to create cash-flowing catering businesses. Still, 300 people is a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents.

Going forward, the Fund for Public Housing faces some persistent challenges, like convincing people that public housing -- and the people who live there -- are worth investing in. At this point, the donors to the Fund have endowed mostly small-scale projects: updating design guidelines or creating scholarships. By comparison, other public-private city nonprofits like the Fund for Public Schools help create much larger projects.

Olatoye thinks the Fund for Public Housing could eventually tackle large- and small-scale projects simultaneously: “I imagine a world, where we can hold both concepts in our head. Where we can have large-scale numerically impactful programs that are putting large numbers of public housing residents to meaningful work, while having the space to nurture our focus on bringing public art into the housing authority. And I think there is a base of donors and philanthropic partners who are interested in both.”

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by Elena Burger, Gotham Gazette

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Nascent Fund for Public Housing Begins Building NYCHA War Chest Sun, 27 Nov 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Visit to Bronxchester Shows NYCHA in Transition, Section 8 Concerns http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6496:visit-to-bronxchester-shows-nycha-in-transition-and-section-8-concerns http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6496:visit-to-bronxchester-shows-nycha-in-transition-and-section-8-concerns NYCHA NextGen Olatoye BK

NYCHA Chair Olatoye at a NYCHA event (photo via NYCHA on Flickr)


There are several pieces to the affordable housing puzzle in New York City. One is the city’s large public housing stock, home to about half a million people across the five boroughs. Another, at times overlapping piece is Section 8 vouchers, also known as Housing Choice Vouchers, which are federal subsidies that allow low-income tenants to live in a variety of locations, depending on where those vouchers are being accepted.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is in charge of both traditional public housing properties and the Section 8 voucher program in New York City. As public housing properties have continued to wither after decades of use and lack of continued investment, especially from the federal government, the repair needs and costs far exceed what NYCHA alone can afford. While federal funds have moved toward privatization, thus the Section 8 program, New York City has grappled with how to properly keep up its public housing. In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye announced and began implementing an ambitious new plan, NextGeneration NYCHA, which aims to get the authority back on solid fiscal footing over the course of a number of years.

The Section 8 voucher program is funded by the federal government, but it is administered by local housing authorities. The program has been in the news of later because the federal government is considering a major shake-up of Section 8 with the goal of fostering neighborhood integration and socioeconomic mobility. But, the proposal has alarmed many in New York City who want the city exempted from the new rules.

New Yorkers wishing to obtain a Section 8 voucher can apply for one through NYCHA, which screens applicants and administers the most vouchers of any public housing authority in the country. The program allows voucher holders to rent a privately-owned apartment within in a certain rent limit - the participant spends 30 percent of their income on rent and the voucher serves as a federal subsidy that covers the remaining cost.

Meanwhile, the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program is a new form of federal assistance designed to help public housing authorities across the country pay for unmet repairs and redevelopment in public housing properties. The “national backlog of deferred maintenance” on public housing properties across the country currently totals to approximately $26 billion. In New York, NYCHA’s public housing properties’ “unfunded capital needs” total approximately $16.5 billion, more than half the national sum.

The goal of RAD is to alleviate the debt burden felt by local public housing authorities by allowing them to sell a stake in their properties to private development firms that can then refurbish the units. When a public housing authority sells a stake in their public housing property to a private developer and redevelopment of a public housing development takes place, the tenants living in these units are no longer tenants of a public housing development but become Section 8 voucher holders living in a private-public property, while the housing units themselves are required by law to continue as affordable housing units.

NYCHA’s Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program is the operation that facilitates the use of RAD funding in New York City. While NYCHA is applying to have 40 public housing properties transformed into Section 8 properties through RAD/PACT -- a transformation that will allow the housing authority to harness the resources of private developers for refurbishment -- it has already implemented a public-private partnership for several properties around the city.

Bronxchester Houses is one such property. The redevelopment that has taken place at Bronxchester is not a RAD project simply because the property, while owned and operated by NYCHA since its acquisition in the 1970s, was never public housing but was rather always Section 8 housing. This status as Section 8 housing owned by NYCHA is one shared by five other properties, and when the housing authority sold a 50 percent stake in the properties to a private developer, Triborough Preservation Partners, which is itself a partnership between L+M Development and Preservation Development Partners, in late 2014, the sale allowed for the redevelopment of approximately 875 apartments.

Situated near The HUB shopping district in the South Bronx, the Bronxchester Houses are home to 208 apartments. The repairs completed by Triborough are both structural and cosmetic. The courtyard, once covered in asphalt with one small splash of grass, is now covered with greenery and includes a new playground, a new basketball court, new park benches, and new picnic tables.

On a recent visit accompanied by members of the media, Olatoye, the NYCHA chair and CEO, called the refurbished property a “haven for the community,” and an “island of respite,” descriptive language not frequently used when discussing NYCHA properties.

The cosmetic repairs made by Triborough were as important to NYCHA as the structural repairs. Olatoye noted that it was important for NYCHA to see the old, yellow cinder block walls so strongly associated with public housing replaced by brighter, more welcoming material in redevelopment. The elevators and mailboxes in the lobby were replaced and refurbished, creating a friendlier entrance. The purpose of these aesthetic changes is to create an environment for residents that is welcoming and destigmatized.

The updates to appearance, security, and structure made to the Bronxchester Houses would not have been possible without private funding. NYCHA is prohibited by law from placing debt on its properties, but a private company faces no such restriction. And while the currently established public-private partnerships in New York City are not RAD-funded, the future of this type of housing redevelopment will be.

The first property that will undergo rehabilitation through RAD/PACT funding is the Ocean Bay property in Queens. If the housing authority’s application for RAD funding is approved, 40 other NYCHA properties, which consist of 5,200 housing units, will follow.

NYCHA’s Vice President for Development, Nicole Ferreira says that the RAD program will allow NYCHA to chip away at the $16.5 billion capital needs deficit it faces. “The 5,200 [units] is just the beginning. We had talked in the NextGen report about at least getting 15,000 units. But I would say, though, the 5,200 equals one billion dollars in capital repairs, so if we get through that, that’s a billion dollars. The entire 15,000 units we’d like to get to, and maybe it ends up being bigger than that, who knows, but the entire 15,000 units is about 6 percent of our portfolio, but it represents 20 percent of our capital needs. 15,000 units equals three billion dollars in capital.”

While approval for RAD funding for those 5,200 units is not guaranteed, Ferreira is optimistic about NYCHA’s chances. “Our 5,200 units are on the HUD waitlist, so there’s a 185,000 unit cap nationwide, so any other additional units have been put on a waitlist, but we’ve been having very positive conservations with HUD about, as other public housing authorities can’t close projects that, or they have no longer any interest, that maybe NYCHA would be prioritized.”

Judith Goldiner, the attorney in charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at Legal Aid Society is cautiously optimistic about the RAD program.

“What we hope will be good about RAD is sort of twofold: one is that the bad parts of RAD we think that we have tried to address by keeping basically all the ton of protections that tenants have in public housing now if their building is converted to RAD, and the hope is, the other good part of RAD would be that there’s money for repairs that there are not currently in public housing,” she said. “The concern, obviously is that we’re losing apartments in the public housing portfolio, and that’s not where we’d like to be.”

The RAD program signals a significant shift away from maintaining public housing in its traditional form and toward the preservation and rehabilitation of properties transformed from public housing to Section 8 housing, with private funding and without the additional step of privatization.

Section 8 refers to the section included in the federal Housing and Community Development Act that outlines the Housing Choice Voucher program. The federal program was established in 1974 under President Richard Nixon as a free-market alternative to public housing. It was originally designed to give low-income Americans agency and mobility in the housing market. It was also designed to save the government money; constructing and maintaining public housing is expensive. Transitioning away from public housing was seen as a win-win scenario for both the government and tenants because by the 1970s, living in public housing had become increasingly untenable as conditions for tenants continued to deteriorate and the federal government disinvested.

Vouchers allow qualified applicants to live in apartments of their choice up to a certain price -- which differs by location -- and devote approximately 30 percent of their income to rent while the federal government covers the remaining cost each month. While these vouchers were intended to give potential tenants with low incomes more choice in housing, in many cases that has not occurred. Because the amount of rent the federal government will subsidize is limited based on the average cost of rent in each specific area, voucher holders’ choices of apartments are limited, and thus, they are often confined to poorer neighborhoods. Currently, there are 90,000 Section 8 vouchers in use in New York City, and there are 147,033 families on the waitlist for vouchers.

Recently, the Obama administration proposed changes to the Section 8 voucher system, intending to increase the choices available to voucher holders and improve racial and socioeconomic integration in wealthier neighborhoods throughout the country. If enacted, the new regulations would adjust the rent subsidy based on average incomes in a given area, offering more subsidy in wealthier areas, less in poorer ones. The proposal targets the fact that because of limits, most Section 8 participants use the subsidy in poorer neighborhoods; by offering a higher subsidy ceiling, the hope is that more low-income earners will rent in wealthier areas.

There is, however, considerable debate - especially here in New York City - of whether the Obama administration’s goals will actually come to fruition through these changes. Some say that the changes would so disrupt things for low-income tenants in the city, with its unique housing market and incredibly low vacancy rates, that a spike in homelessness would be guaranteed.

The President’s proposed changes, announced in mid-June, are just the latest development in the long, turbulent history of affordable housing policy in the United States. A centerpiece of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political agenda, the availability of affordable housing is an especially important issue for many New Yorkers. No city in the country distributes more Section 8 vouchers, but with 2.5 million people applying for only 2,600 affordable housing units last summer, affordable housing continues to elude many New Yorkers.

While the RAD program is intended to transform public housing into Section 8 housing, the Obama administration’s proposed changes to Section 8 vouchers are intended to move voucher holders to neighborhoods that are far away from most public housing. The plan to distribute smaller subsidies for tenants living in poorer neighborhoods is the main source of tension. While many officials in the Obama administration point to studies showing the inherent benefits of living in a wealthy, resource-rich neighborhood and the moral interest in desegregating some of the country’s biggest cities, a diverse coalition of stakeholders in New York City has emerged in opposition to the proposed changes.

Bronx City Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the Council’s public housing committee, fears that homelessness could rise as the federal government decreases subsidies for tenants living in poorer areas. In an op-ed for NY Slant, Torres wrote, “Moving people to neighborhoods that offer them a better life is a worthy endeavor, to be sure, but what happens when there is essentially no place for people to move? What happens when voucher holders, facing a vacancy rate of 1.8 percent for units affordable to them, have nowhere to go? HUD's romantic rhetoric about mobility and opportunity is at odds with the unromantic reality of the New York City housing market.”

Goldiner, of Legal Aid, also points to New York’s unique housing market as evidence that the city is unsuited to the proposed changes.

“New York has almost a 50 percent turn-back rate, which means when people have to move and get a voucher to move, almost 50 percent of them are not able to,” she said.

The critiques expressed by liberal politicians like Torres and nonprofits like Legal Aid Society are shared by some landlords who fear that these changes will result in more tenants finding themselves unable to pay their rent each month. The city is already dealing with a homelessness crisis hovering around 60,000 people without stable housing.

Despite this alarm, the studies to which the Obama administration points when justifying the new proposals show that location is key when it comes to one’s chances for upward social mobility.

Professors Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard University studied the effect of place on the long-term economic outcomes of children who moved during their childhood. Their research focused on whether the number of years a child spent growing up in a low-poverty neighborhood versus a high-poverty neighborhood had any effect on their success as an adult. They found that it did. As reported by the New York Times, low-poverty neighborhoods are not just areas where poverty is low, they are also areas where inequality, violent crime rates, and segregation across racial and socioeconomic lines are low, schools are good, and two-parent households are prevalent. According to the research, the earlier in life a child moves from a high-poverty neighborhood to a low-poverty neighborhood, the better.

Chetty and Hendren’s research shows that growing up poor in all parts of New York City does not bode well for a child’s earnings and livelihood as an adult. Many poor neighborhoods in New York City are areas with a high concentration of Section 8 voucher holders - areas of the city like Central Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Upper Manhattan.

The concentration of voucher holders in poorer neighborhoods, a phenomenon in existence across the country, stems not only from tenants’ limit in choice due to government subsidy cutoffs, but it can also be attributed to landlord preference.

In many higher income neighborhoods, landlords do not prefer to have voucher holders as tenants. In 2008, the practice of discriminating against a potential tenant based solely on their status as a Section 8 voucher holder became illegal in New York City under the New York City human rights law; however, that does not always deter landlords from engaging in the practice, and in many areas of New York State the practice is perfectly legal.

Additionally, there is no federal law forbidding discrimination based on legal source of income. This fact has prompted U.S. Congressional Rep. Nydia Velazquez of Brooklyn to introduce a bill to Congress that would outlaw housing discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders across the country.

This discrimination is in line with much of the history of housing throughout the country. Access to housing in the U.S., including affordable housing, has been marred by discrimination for decades, and this discrimination has had serious consequences. According to proponents of the changes, Chetty and Hendren’s research shows that the road to equality is a matter of location and integration, and with the proposed changes to the Section 8 voucher program, the Obama administration is attempting to implement the tools to create a solution. But critics of the changes say that if the program can only be made possible by taking away subsidies from voucher holders living in poorer neighborhoods, a potential rise in homelessness is a real threat, especially in a city as large and as expensive as New York.

The proposed changes to Section 8 and the RAD program present New Yorkers with two possible options for change in how some affordable housing is created and maintained. Whether either option will do more harm than good for those in need of affordable housing remains to be seen.

In terms of improving NYCHA’s properties and consequently, residents’ homes, VP Ferreira is mindful of the strengths of public-private partnerships made possible by RAD, but also recognizes the need to explore all options when it comes to improving affordable housing for New Yorkers.

“The goal is, there’s not one program that’s going to address everything, but we have to use all of the tools at our disposal, and RAD is just one of those tools,” she said.

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by Libby Wetzler, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected with the correct number of NYCHA developments or properties in the RAD application: it is 40, not 29.

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Visit to Bronxchester Shows NYCHA in Transition, Section 8 Concerns Thu, 25 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
NYCHA Chair Outlines Some Movement Up Steep Hill http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6399:nycha-chair-outlines-some-movement-up-steep-hill http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6399:nycha-chair-outlines-some-movement-up-steep-hill Shola Olatoye

NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye (photo: Buck Ennis)


The head of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), landlord to more than 400,000 New Yorkers and leader of more than 11,000 employees serving about 178,000 apartments in nearly 2,600 buildings, believes that the future of public housing in the city must be driven by the same type of innovation embodied in its early years.

“Certainly, we must do the basics better,” said Shola Olatoye, NYCHA CEO and Chair, at a breakfast hosted by Crain’s New York Business at the New York Athletic Club on Thursday morning. “But frankly that won’t be enough. We have to innovate.”

In prepared remarks, Olatoye traced the past, present, and future of NYCHA, from its inception in 1934 as a “grand and sweeping experiment” to its current financial and structural woes and the vision laid out in the city’s strategic ten-year plan, NextGeneration NYCHA. Frankly assessing “crummy” conditions and little historical reason for optimism among NYCHA tenants, Olatoye outlined the city’s accomplishments in the year since the NextGeneration plan was announced, acknowledged the challenges that lay ahead in revamping an outdated operational model, enhancing programming, and tapping new pipelines of funding.

NYCHA has about $17 billion in capital needs to address long-developing problems with its buildings and properties. Olatoye was proud to announce, though, that the authority has a balanced operational budget two years running.

“I am fundamentally a hopeful person,” she said. “It will be messy and sometimes unnecessarily complicated. It demands that all levels of government support it, not simply attack it. It must aggressively court private investment and individual donors, not simply for capital sources but for new sources of support, partnership and innovation.”

Olatoye stressed that NYCHA in its current state is, for the most part, a far cry from its early years. The system that once built high-quality housing with strong political and public support, provided a range of community and social services, utilized bold urban design and strived for racial integration, no longer exists, she said. Sources of funding, especially federal and state, have dried up and the demographic profile of NYCHA residents has changed.

One compounding problem, she told the audience of about 150, is that “While the funding and population we serve has changed dramatically, NYCHA’s operating model has largely remained frozen in time.” Key elements of NextGeneration NYCHA outline the way forward, Olatoye said.

She listed the initiatives of the new strategic plan -- decentralizing management of developments, retraining property offices, transitioning to digital technology, integrating services with other city agencies, raising private funds for capital needs, among others. She announced that by the end of the month, the city would seek bids from developers to build housing in Boerum Hill and the Upper East Side that will be 50 percent affordable and 50 percent market rate - part of the city’s controversial plan to add new housing stock on NYCHA properties that will bring in revenue and create more affordable housing.

Olatoye also said the city was preparing to submit the country’s largest application to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to preserve 15,000 affordable housing units and implement more than $3 billion in capital repairs at NYCHA developments.

The biggest challenge is NYCHA’s ability to preserve quality affordable public housing with limited funding. In a question and answer session after Olatoye’s 15-minute speech moderated by Erik Engquist, assistant managing editor of Crain’s, and Ben Max, executive editor of Gotham Gazette, the NYCHA CEO detailed major avenues of the strategic plan. These include building 10,000 units over the next ten years that are 100 percent affordable (three projects are already under way), meaning that rents will fall under certain limits and raising between $300-600 million over the course of the plan through the NextGeneration Neighborhoods program, which is often referred to as “infill.”

The agency’s funding challenges are part of virtually every operational and programmatic issue in its purview. While Olatoye pointed out that Mayor Bill de Blasio has invested more than $570 million into NYCHA for operating expenses and capital needs, the agency suffers from continued disinvestment by state and federal authorities.

Federal funding of $300 million each year is insufficient to meet capital needs, she said, and the state’s commitment of $100 million in capital funds last year came for the first time since 1998 - but, the state funds are still in limbo and will be funneled through state authorities rather than directly allocated to NYCHA. Olatoye declined to speculate as to why the state has not moved forward to use the funding to address problems at NYCHA it was dedicated for.

As part of NYCHA’s operational overhaul, Olatoye said the agency was moving towards a model with community partners to provide services in areas of education, employment, and mental health, and to connect residents to city resources like cultural institutions. “We’re reorienting the way we do that,” she said, contrasting the model with the original developments with all-encompassing services. She said that a variety of programs have been in place to help NYCHA residents, especially youth, experience different parts of the city, but that those are being rethought and new partners are being sought.

A running theme of Olatoye’s appearance was that NYCHA is looking for investment on a variety of fronts - from real estate developers, community-based organizations, and others who are willing to aid in NYCHA’s attempted renaissance. [Hear Olatoye's full remarks and the Q&A through the audio embedded below this article]

Olatoye also announced a pilot program starting in July at 12 developments that would gauge the viability of providing near round-the-clock management and repair service rather than the current 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. model. In relaying the current, antiquated hours to the audience, Olatoye explained that NYCHA is working with the main labor union involved to expand hours so that residents can have repairs done in the evenings.

While she seeks to turn a massive ship around, Olatoye is landlord to an aging NYCHA population that is also poorer than it used to be, with many working-age residents not in the workforce for a variety of reasons, some of which include health challenges. NYCHA is also currently dealing with an inquiry from federal authorities around its lead abatement procedures in developments and possible underreporting of hazardous conditions.

With the implementation of the NextGeneration plan, Olatoye envisions a reinvention and reinvigoration of NYCHA. By 2025, she said, NYCHA will be financially stable, generating recurring revenues and maintaining strong reserves. Its capital needs will fall from $17 billion to $10 billion and it be an “attractive investment” for municipal bond holders who will help it move further toward zero. Residents would wait no longer than 72 hours for basic repairs and will be able to “once again say they live in safe and clean housing.”

Below: 1) a conversation between Ben Max and Jarrett Murphy about NYCHA and 2) the full Crain's breakfast event:

Listen to Gotham Gazette's Ben Max & City Limits' Jarrett Murphy discuss NYCHA and Chair Olatoye's latest comments:

Listen to the full Crain's New York Business breakfast with Chair Olatoye, including her remarks and the Q&A session that followed:

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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NYCHA Chair Outlines Some Movement Up Steep Hill Thu, 16 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
NYCHA's 'Core Challenge' http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6329:nycha-s-core-challenge http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6329:nycha-s-core-challenge torres twin parks west nycha

Council Member Torres & "VP Nelson" at Twin Parks West (photo via NYCHA on flickr)


In a special edition of "Max & Murphy on Housing," our weekly discussion of New York housing politics, City Council Member Ritchie Torres joined Jarrett Murphy and me to discuss the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, which Torres has oversight of as chair of the Council's public housing committee. Torres also grew up in NYCHA housing in the Bronx. The Democratic first-term Council member talked with us about the challenges facing the system that houses at least half a million New Yorkers, saying that NYCHA's "core challenge is not funding a funding challenge...ultimately, it's a political challenge." With more political support, Torres says, funding and many other NYCHA-related services would improve.

Why is NYCHA so lacking in political support even considering that Mayor Bill de Blasio is giving it more attention than his predecessors? Listen to our discussion of that question and several others, including whether NYCHA should be phased out, if the City Council is giving enough prioritization to public housing, and more. Listen (find prior episodes of Max & Murphy on Housing here):

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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NYCHA's 'Core Challenge' Thu, 12 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Making New York Public Housing Sustainable http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6293:making-new-york-public-housing-sustainable http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6293:making-new-york-public-housing-sustainable nycha presser photo

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


The New York City Housing Authority is the nation’s largest residential landlord, providing permanently affordable housing to more than 400,000 low-income New Yorkers, many of whom would be homeless without public housing.

Like many public housing authorities around the country, NYCHA has its critics. Stories of poor living conditions, safety concerns, and health hazards often grab headlines, and rightly so. That’s why housing authority leaders must respond with real, innovative solutions to maintain a decent standard of living.

That’s exactly what the housing authority is doing on Earth Day with the release of the NextGeneration NYCHA Sustainability Agenda. It’s high time that NYCHA take full advantage of—and residents benefit from—the cost savings, health improvements and climate change protections associated with sustainable buildings. This is a bold plan to make that happen.

It comes at a pivotal time for New Yorkers who live in public housing. Years of federal and state funding cuts have left the housing authority with a backlog of needed repairs totaling more than $17 billion. NYCHA is continually forced to stretch its limited resources across a vast and aging portfolio, struggling to make even the most essential repairs in 2,550 buildings throughout the five boroughs. The threat of losing apartments and whole developments to decay is real.

Making sure public housing in New York doesn’t shrink or disappear as it has in other cities will require that NYCHA take advantage of every tool at its disposal. The Sustainability Agenda represents big-picture thinking on a range of new programs, from deep energy retrofits and distributed energy systems to improved staff training and resident-owned business opportunities.

We have evidence that it is possible to bring the health, environmental, and economic benefits of environmentally sustainable building to low-income communities through affordable housing.

Since 2004, Enterprise Community Partners, a national affordable housing nonprofit with a longstanding presence in New York City, has led the charge in making affordable housing environmentally sustainable, healthy, and resilient through its Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, the first national framework for creating and preserving green affordable housing.

The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) requires all city-subsidized affordable housing that is either newly built or undergoing substantial rehabilitation to meet these criteria. Importantly, NYCHA’s Sustainability Agenda will bring this same standard to public housing developments in New York.

As part of the Sustainability Agenda, NYCHA has taken a targeted approach to identify and incorporate the most effective strategies for creating healthy environments for its residents. For example, investments in roof repairs and modernizing ventilation will eliminate a substantial cause of mold, greatly improving resident health. Children with asthma will experience fewer attacks and missed school days, improving education outcomes and helping them graduate on time. According to new research from Enterprise and the Center for Outcomes Research and Education (CORE), healthy affordable housing also improves health care access and quality while reducing costs.

Through investments in environmentally sustainable infrastructure, NYCHA will also help protect residents from the impacts of climate change. By 2025, it anticipates a 27 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from its buildings. And all of this will come with an eye toward creating quality green jobs for residents, while helping the city achieve its overall climate goals at the same time.

To be sure, achieving these goals will require additional funding upfront, though analysis of the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria has shown that sustainable buildings save money in the long run, both in building operating costs and in health improvements for residents.

The Sustainability Agenda will bring an entirely new set of private resources and community-based partnerships to the Housing Authority, but will also require support from all levels of government. Repairing the well-known decay in our public housing properties could be financed with help from New York State. That’s why a group of affordable housing and tenant advocates have called on Albany lawmakers to step up to the plate. Public housing should also be a major topic in the presidential election.

The benefits of the Sustainability Agenda—to the housing authority, its residents and the city as a whole—far outweigh the costs. As a part of the larger NextGeneration NYCHA plan, it will help preserve public housing, set the authority on the path to financial solvency and improve NYCHA’s ability to be an effective landlord.

Public housing in New York must be preserved. Although positive change in public housing doesn’t get as much attention as its struggles, NYCHA is making great strides to ensure that children who live in public housing have a safe, healthy place to grow up and the opportunity to thrive.

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Judi Kende is vice president and New York market leader at Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., a national organization that creates, preserves and advocates for affordable housing linked to good schools, jobs, transit and health care. On Twitter @JudiKende and @Enterprise_NYC.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Making New York Public Housing Sustainable Thu, 21 Apr 2016 18:46:53 +0000