Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/980 Wed, 20 Feb 2019 13:48:37 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Council Public Housing Chair Weighs in on HUD Deal, NYCHA’s Future http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8287-city-council-public-housing-chair-weighs-in-on-hud-deal-nycha-s-future http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8287-city-council-public-housing-chair-weighs-in-on-hud-deal-nycha-s-future Ampry-Samuel NYCHA

Alicka Ampry-Samuel (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


As Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced his “NYCHA 2.0” plan to secure the future of the city’s public housing authority, an agreement with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that includes a new federal monitor of NYCHA, and a new interim chair to lead the authority, the City Council member charged with oversight of NYCHA has some questions.

Alicka Ampry-Samuel is the chair of the City Council’s public housing committee and represents parts of central Brooklyn, home to many NYCHA residences. During a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio, Ampry-Samuel explained some of her concerns about the latest NYCHA-related developments, said that de Blasio had not reached out to her ahead of announcing that Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia would be named interim NYCHA chair, and promised a public hearing on the city’s deal with HUD in the coming months.

Ampry-Samuel had measured praise for de Blasio’s NYCHA 2.0 plan, which includes fairly aggressive measures to bring in new revenue to address the housing authority’s $30 billion-plus in physical needs, but she joined the chorus of critics who have questioned the mayor’s deal with HUD that includes no new federal money for NYCHA.

“We are seeing better things, but tell that to the person who’s suffering right now,” Ampry-Samuels said of the general situation across NYCHA, particularly relative to last winter, when there were widespread heat and hot water outages. “It’s hard for them to receive that response because they’re thinking, ‘What about me?’ That’s not the case in my home.”

On January 31, de Blasio announced at a press conference with Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson a deal that includes the federal government taking more direct oversight of NYCHA in response to years of crisis, criticism, management turmoil, and federal law enforcement inquiry.

Opponents have criticized the deal as giving too much power to a federal government that has often been at odds with the de Blasio administration and not supportive enough of public housing. The deal includes no new federal funding but a federal monitor who will be tasked with tracking NYCHA’s actions.

“Who is this person?” Ampry-Samuel said of the impending monitor. “Do they care about public housing, or is just a business-minded person who’s coming in to change and reform management, coming in to change the operational structure? Or is this someone who’s going to come in and look at NYCHA 2.0 and raising revenue to deal with the $32 million capital repairs it needs.”

Ampry-Samuel took a measured, pragmatic approach throughout the discussion. “With there now being federal monitor, this is opportunity to have an independent voice and be able to sit down with residents and the City of New York and say, ‘These are the things you have in place’ and review it. Go line by line and say, ‘You have not been able to do what you needed to do in the past and this is a way forward.’”

In December, de Blasio announced NYCHA 2.0, a revamped comprehensive plan to reform NYCHA and bring in more than $20 billion in revenue to repair the crumbling and dangerous public housing home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers. Some of the measures de Blasio had either rejected in the past or supported in far more limited fashion, but he said that without large-scale federal help, the city had no other viable options.

According to a de Blasio press release, the plan will resolve $24 billion in repairs, including renovations for 175,000 residents. Some of that will depend on new development on underused NYCHA land, such as parking lots, where a mix of market-rate and affordable housing will be erected. Ampry-Samuel appeared to acknowledge the elements of the plan as necessities, despite the fact that many have expressed grave concerns about such “infill” housing. The development process must be community-led, she said, and the money from development must be reinvested in the particular NYCHA projects where the new housing is built.

“We have to figure out ways to bring money in, but we have to make sure that the residents who are already part of the fabric of that development benefit from all the deals,” she said. “And we have to make sure it doesn’t happen to them -- it happens with them.”

Just last week de Blasio announced his next choice for interim chair of NYCHA: Kathryn Garcia, commissioner of the city’s Department of Sanitation, whom de Blasio had also recently put in charge of lead remediation efforts, which came out of the NYCHA lead paint scandal. Garcia replaces outgoing interim chair Stanley Brezenoff who recently criticized the city’s deal with HUD.

“I can’t figure why [the next NYCHA chair] is someone who has no housing background, no one with experience to that level,” said Ampry-Samuel. “She’s a great woman, with a great career, she rose through the ranks at Sanitation, but we can’t play musical chairs with this type of situation.”

A permanent chair, perhaps Garcia, is expected to be named after the federal monitor is in place, given that the monitor will have a say in approving de Blasio’s choice to head the authority.

The City Council Committee on Public Housing plans to hold an oversight hearing with Garcia, the administration, and a HUD representative on the deal between HUD and the city and NYCHA in the next several weeks, Ampry-Samuel said. She called for the creation of a chief resident officer as an advisor to the chair of NYCHA. The position, she hopes, could spur a greater relationship between NYCHA and NYCHA residents, though there are also tenant councils.

Asked about a time frame for the hearing she promised, Ampry-Samuel was hesitant to provide specifics, given how unsettled things are and how fresh the deal with HUD was, but she said she looked forward to a public discussion of all the recent changes and those to come.

[Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: The Future of NYCHA with City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel]

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by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

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City Council Public Housing Chair Weighs in on HUD Deal, NYCHA’s Future Thu, 14 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: The Future of NYCHA with City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8262-max-murphy-podcast-the-future-of-nycha-with-city-council-member-alicka-ampry-samuel http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8262-max-murphy-podcast-the-future-of-nycha-with-city-council-member-alicka-ampry-samuel mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


February 7, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel

alicka ampry samuel 150

City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel chairs the Council's public housing committee and represents a Brooklyn district with a large NYCHA presence. She joined the show to discuss NYCHA's future, including the recent agreement between Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the mayor's previously-announced plans to raise revenue to fund more than $30 billion in needed repairs and upgrades, as well as de Blasio's announcement of a new interim NYCHA chair.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: The Future of NYCHA with City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel Wed, 06 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Private Sector Failure Requires NYCHA’s Preservation http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8216-private-sector-failure-requires-nycha-s-preservation http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8216-private-sector-failure-requires-nycha-s-preservation mayor private

(photo: Mayor's Office)


Many New Yorkers likely wonder why Mayor de Blasio wants to spend $24 billion on saving the aging towers of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Much of this public housing consists of plain brick towers, which the city built rapidly from the 1930s to the 1960s, in a dated “towers in the park” design, now worn down from decades of hard use. In Singapore and much of Europe, government policy has targeted public housing of this age and type for billions in spending to remake projects to match changing urban tastes, family size, and rising densities.

But in the United States and New York there is no equivalent housing program with the funds to replace NYCHA’s 175,000 apartments (400,000 registered tenants), which rent on average at just $550 per month. The mayor, in the unprecedented $24 billion NYCHA 2.0 plan he released in December, is forced to rely on a complicated and potentially uncertain financing plan integrating city, state, federal, and private funds; private sector management of fully one-third of NYCHA’s portfolio; and hoped for revenues from “infill” ground leases and sales of air rights.

Added together the plan’s various elements will still barely provide for basic renovation when spread across a massive system that has a minimum of $31 billion in capital needs; NYCHA 2.0 certainly won’t cover redevelopment to a twenty-first century standard. Even if New York had the funds for massive redevelopment, it would still be a risky proposition to take NYCHA projects offline (many of which have 1,000 units or more each). NYCHA is already full to overflowing and the private market lacks sufficient low-cost units to accommodate relocation needs.

The risk is high in losing any of NYCHA’s units because the most endangered commodity in New York City is the privately-operated apartment that rents for less than $1,000 -- with rent-regulated units in particularly perilous straits. Public housing is now such a crucial part of that low-cost market that to lose the system, or even part of it, would, according to the respected Regional Plan Association, drive up homelessness, take housing from working-class people, and worsen conditions citywide because the market cannot replace the units.

A Brief History of Massive Failure

private building(Lewis Hine, Elizabeth Street, 1912. Library of Congress)

Today’s private sector housing failure is nothing new; instead, lousy and expensive housing has been a persistent dimension of New York City life for over a century. The city was once dominated by thousands of privately owned tenement buildings that crowded land and people together at density levels the world had never seen before. The creation of the subway in 1904 relieved that pressure for a time, allowing for a mass exodus to newer tenements, apartment buildings, or small homes in the outer boroughs. NYCHA also launched in the 1930s as an all-out attack on these tenements.

Tougher housing regulations and the suburban boom accelerated the tenement exodus from the 1930s onward, but many tenements in areas such as East Harlem and the Lower East Side backfilled with migrants from the south and Puerto Rico in the mid-twentieth century. Owners of many vestigial tenements abandoned or burned many of them from the ‘60s to the ‘80s.

Gentrification since the 1970s in New York City generated a new twist on private sector failure. Landlords of surviving apartment buildings good and bad won revisions in rent control and stabilization since the 1970s. They have used these lenient rules ever since to raise rents or drive out long-time tenants. Many private landlords haven’t cared if a tenant family must pay 50 percent or more of their income on rent. Dangerous conditions in many of these lower-rent buildings, which are not as widely publicized as those at NYCHA, are a mixed bag with irregular heat, lead exposure, and mold common.

Private Sector Saviors?
Many private real estate companies have, in fairness, played a crucial role in affordable housing management and development since the 1960s. Indeed, the various tax credits and breaks, and zoning bonuses, have created new “affordable” units that are modern and comfortable. Yet the supply of these units is relatively small (as they are often a minority percentage of a building); apartments time out of affordability after a specified period (requiring new public financing); and most apartments are targeted for income levels higher than public housing.

The result is scarcity and insufficient affordable housing production: the odds of landing one of the new privately developed and managed affordable units produced in 2018 was just 1 in 592. At the current rate of new private construction in Mayor de Blasio’s broader housing plan, which produced a record 7,857 affordable units in 2018, it would still take two decades or more just to replace NYCHA’s 175,000 units.

The real estate industry has also stepped up to play a central role in the conversion of public housing to private sector management and may end up running about 66,000 units of NYCHA housing under what NYCHA calls PACT (nationally it is RAD). Builders also hope to ground-lease NYCHA sites that could provide funding for renovation of surrounding buildings and additional affordable and market-rate units.

Private companies aren’t taking on these NYCHA projects or infill projects for entirely altruistic reasons, of course. Infill projects, even with affordable components, can be profitable. Private managers who take over existing NYCHA projects are being handed thousands of well-located, structurally-sound, mostly debt-free, fully-tenanted, property tax-free, federally-subsidized (Section 8) apartments they can borrow money from banks to renovate. Managing and renovating these buildings is a heavy lift, but there is a significant upside if done right.

Time to Step Up!
The private sector, even given these good steps, is still not doing enough for either NYCHA or the average low-income renter. Without a large-scale program of new production, the region will continue to be uncompetitive as business shifts to places where lower and even middle-income people can afford to live decently. The city’s private sector is booming today, for sure, but so is the national economy. When times get tight, New York City may seem much less attractive. A desperate population is also likely to be drawn to draconian rent regulations, higher taxes, and more “socialistic” policies to try and level the playing field. It isn’t pretty when recessions hit New York.

Both real estate interests and large employers should be putting more of their energy and funds into expanding affordable housing programs at the state and federal levels. Only when the real estate industry starts producing tens of thousands of affordable units per year do they earn a right to speak about NYCHA’s future and/or redevelopment. It also wouldn’t hurt if a business titan or two stood up for public housing funding and improvements.

Instead of putting so much of its energy into fighting rent stabilization or marketing overpriced apartments to foreign investors, business leaders could take a cue from their wealthy predecessors. Governors Roosevelt, Lehman, and Rockefeller developed and fought hard for creative programs to boost low-cost housing production. Or they can look west. Microsoft’s new commitment of $500 million to affordable housing in Seattle reflects, hopefully, a new era of commitment from employers to making more equitable housing market.

Where is New York City’s Microsoft of affordable housing?

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Nicholas Dagen Bloom is a professor at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) and a NYCHA scholar, and has a new book on state/urban policies: How States Shaped Postwar America.

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

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Private Sector Failure Requires NYCHA’s Preservation Wed, 23 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Top Stories of 2018 & What to Watch in 2019 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8162-max-murphy-podcast-top-stories-of-2018-what-to-watch-in-2019 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8162-max-murphy-podcast-top-stories-of-2018-what-to-watch-in-2019 mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


December 26, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Top Stories of 2018 & What to Watch in 2019

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

mxm logoFor our year-end show we look back at the top storylines of 2018 in New York politics and preview our top storylines to watch for 2019!

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

agenda19v2 a

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Top Stories of 2018 & What to Watch in 2019 Thu, 27 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
NYCHA Follows the Money http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8097-nycha-follows-the-money http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8097-nycha-follows-the-money de Blasio NYCHA RAD

NYCHA RAD announcement (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Had the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Congress, and various Presidents funded public housing at a level equivalent to its needs for the past two decades, NYCHA would still have problems, but not at the scale it does today. Nor would a progressive Mayor be wholeheartedly embracing private management of about one-third (62,000) of the city’s precious, low-cost, public housing units. The only way to understand why the Mayor, NYCHA leadership, and many local politicians endorse increasing the use of public-private partnerships to run NYCHA is to step back and view NYCHA’s problems through the wider angle of changing federal policy.

From the 1930s to the 1990s, NYCHA lobbied for and won federal subsidies that allowed it to build and manage public housing on a massive scale. Sadly, most other American cities used these same subsidies to create much smaller, lower-quality, worse managed, more isolated, and thus less popular systems. New Yorkers, by contrast, grew accustomed to the idea that a city would have 175,000 decent low-cost apartments thanks to Uncle Sam. NYCHA employees dutifully managed thousands of towers even under very trying conditions.

By the 1990s, however, New York stood out like a sore thumb. The federal government, responding to public housing problems nationally (such as those in Chicago), was now paying to knock down towers and complexes, encouraging privatization, and pouring more money into voucher programs (i.e. Section 8) and low-income housing tax credits. The whole federal funding system for public housing was redesigned from the ground up to emphasize private sector leadership in low-cost housing.

The towers in cities like Chicago and Baltimore, many of which were only partly occupied by this point, came down at amazing speed, replaced with vouchers and privately-run, mixed-income, medium- or low-rise neighborhoods. Few former public housing tenants were rehoused on former public housing sites; instead, they were mostly scattered into private housing thanks to voucher programs. New York, with full towers, a decent management reputation, tight housing market, and local political commitment to public housing, barely participated in these redevelopment programs.

The demise of large, high-rise, elevator buildings (and public housing more generally) in the rest of the United States was, however, terrible news for NYCHA. The loss of a national program and the urban political allies dedicated to expensive and publicly-run urban public housing led to systemic disinvestment. Even “good” federal funding years did not provide anything close to the needed funds for reinvestments and operations in New York, especially given the advancing age of most buildings. The shift in federal housing policy meant the cuts were permanent features of public housing management.

NYCHA officials were in denial for years. They thought they could "manage" their way out of the problems created by budget cuts until the federal picture improved -- as they had sometimes in the past. They were wrong. Looking back now we see that the dramatic declines in operating and capital funds led to the loss of thousands of experienced employees, deferred maintenance (i.e. mold, peeling paint, broken boilers), compliance failures, inexperienced hires, and more. NYCHA labor unions also successfully fought policy changes and efficiency measures that would have improved quality of life for residents.

When it comes to a massive housing system -- in a very expensive city -- less money inevitably meant lower quality service.

The Mayor's emerging plan for NYCHA 2.0 is an overdue acknowledgment that the federal funding landscape has permanently changed. There will never be a day or decade when NYCHA can from federal funds meet its $31.8 billion capital need, or even fully fund its operations. And while the City has made up for some shortfall over the past few years, to the tune of billions of dollars, it isn’t realistic to believe that the City will redirect tens of billions more of its own capital and operating funds (unless the courts force its hand) from other worthy causes.

Shifting 62,000 NYCHA apartments to private-sector management, as planned in the initial portion of NYCHA 2.0 that we’ve now seen, through various voucher programs, allows private companies to combine rents, voucher reimbursement, and federal tax credits with the money they can borrow as mortgages, loans, etc. They will apply these funds to renovating tens of thousands of apartments in structurally sound NYCHA buildings. They can shave labor costs by hiring new workers and investing in technology. They can take a harder line on rent collection and resident behavior.

NYCHA buildings clean up well under good private managers and new employees, as anyone who has visited the RAD Ocean Bay project can attest. By shifting so many apartments to the private section, moreover, private managers will relieve NYCHA of billions in unfunded capital needs, and of the management of most of its smaller developments, allowing remaining NYCHA staff to focus on the larger projects in its portfolio. The city, of course, will not face a massive bill for renovation. There is an undeniable political payoff as well: future problems at these complexes will no longer be a mayoral liability.

Many residents, local politicians, employees, and activists are leery of NYCHA “privatization.” Indeed, the NYCHA 2.0 plan, promised by Mayor de Blasio by the end of the year, needs to build in solid protections for current NYCHA residents, encourage non-profit participation in private management, and spell out the long-term fate of these apartments as residents come and go. Given the dominance of the private sector in federal policy, and the current balance of power in Washington, those who believe in purely public housing -- the old NYCHA -- will have difficulty developing an alternative and equally beneficial plan. The ball is in their court as the NYCHA 2.0 plan develops.

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Nicholas Dagen Bloom, Ph.D. is a professor at New York Institute of Technology and the author of many books.

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

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NYCHA Follows the Money Tue, 20 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 90%, with NYCHA Interim Chair Stan Brezenoff http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8005-what-s-the-data-point-90-with-nycha-interim-chair-stan-brezenoff http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8005-what-s-the-data-point-90-with-nycha-interim-chair-stan-brezenoff whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 56 -- 90%, with NYCHA Interim Chair Stan Brezenoff [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

Stan Brezenoff

90% is the share of NYCHA units CBC estimates may not be cost effect to repair by 2027 under the current trajectory of deterioration. NYCHA Interim Chair and CEO Stan Brezenoff joined CBC to discuss the policy and funding challenges facing NYCHA, and how he plans to tackle key areas in desperate need of improvement.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 90%, with NYCHA Interim Chair Stan Brezenoff Fri, 19 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
At Brooklyn Town Hall, Angry NYCHA Residents Told to Vote as a Bloc http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7978-at-brooklyn-town-hall-angry-nycha-residents-told-to-vote-as-a-bloc http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7978-at-brooklyn-town-hall-angry-nycha-residents-told-to-vote-as-a-bloc superstorm sandy aftermath

(photo via NYCHA)


The myriad issues plaguing the New York City Housing Authority came to the fore at a town hall on Wednesday night, with NYCHA residents excoriating public officials and officials scrambling to respond.

The town hall, hosted by BRIC TV at its downtown Brooklyn studio, featured an audience mainly consisting of NYCHA residents and a panel of City Council Members Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Ritchie Torres, NYCHA tenant leader Lisa Kenner, New York Daily News reporter Greg Smith, and NYCHA historian Nicholas Dagen Bloom, along with a short pre-recorded interview with city Comptroller Scott Stringer. The event was moderated by BRIC’s Brian Vines.

The issues affecting NYCHA, including but not limited to an alleged cover-up relating to lead paint in apartments, approximately $32 billion in unmet capital needs, and a lack of transparency in management have hung low over the de Blasio administration for the past year. The city, beginning in the Bloomberg Administration, was revealed to have falsified documents submitted to the federal government relating to lead paint inspections in apartments, setting off an additionally intensified period of controversy beyond what was already been a mountain of challenges and persistent struggles for the authority to provide adequate housing and find the revenue needed to upgrade its deteriorating housing stock, which includes roughly 180,000 units across the city, home to about 400,000 New Yorkers.

The Daily News reported in June that the de Blasio administration had used a blood-lead level benchmark significantly higher than the federal standard, resulting in only 19 children living in NYCHA being identified as having elevated lead levels; by the federal standards, 820 children in NYCHA had elevated levels, a number revised to over 1,100 in August. And last winter, hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents were left without working heat and hot water because of defective boilers in critical need of repair.

A federal consent decree, which has yet to be formalized by a judge, would have New York City spend $2 billion on critical repairs and appoint a federal monitor to oversee the ailing Housing Authority. The judge has yet to name a monitor. In practice, the deadline has been extended twice by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, first from July 11 to September 12, and then from September 12 to whatever date the judge formalizes the consent decree.

When tenants testified in court about NYCHA conditions on September 26, the judge, William Pauley, expressed shock at their stories, and has been hesitant to approve the consent decree without changes.

Several speakers had been personally affected by the lead paint scandal, with their children facing the possibility of lifelong repercussions as a result of the lead-infested apartments they spent their formative years in.

“Y’all exposed them to lead dust and continue to disrespect me and violate me,” said Lynone Faison, a resident of the Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene whose child was exposed to lead. Faison said she would prefer living on the street to living in her apartment, but was refraining from doing so because she was worried that ACS would take her children.

“I’m not going to let you just keep walking all over us. I look at you two,” she said, referring to Ampry-Samuel and Torres, the elected officials on the panel, “I’m telling you snakes, you all need to be fired. You all need to be fired. I’m sorry, but you need to be fired, you’re not helping me.”

Another woman, a former resident of the Al Smith Houses on the Lower East Side, detailed how her son had been exposed to lead during her pregnancy; she left NYCHA after giving birth, when the woman she and her husband had been caring for passed away and the city evicted them. She also referenced the stark inequality that has been spotlighted in the development’s vicinity.

“Our children are seeing these rapid changes happening in the world, and they are being told that they are not part of it,” she said. “So we want to ask questions, you know, we want to ask questions. When will our children be part of it? If these developments are happening -- within months, they’re renovating houses. I mean, what on earth, months it takes to renovate a house, but years and years of lead poisoning [in NYCHA]. I mean, this is a genocide here.”

Ampry-Samuel is the current chair of the Public Housing Committee, and Torres is a former chair of that committee and the current chair of the Oversight Committee, which has looked into NYCHA and helped reveal some of the recent issues that have come to light. Both grew up in NYCHA housing, Ampry-Samuel in Brownsville and Torres in Throggs Neck, and relayed their experiences in public housing frequently throughout the hearing.

“I don’t believe or have faith that anyone cares about us at all,” Ampry-Samuel told the woman from Al Smith Houses. “As an elected official, it’s difficult, but I can speak my truth and I can speak what I’ve seen because I’m not worried about my next election. I’m not worried about the next office that I’m gonna run for because I’m just worried about how I’m gonna, in a sense, protect the people, protect my people. And when I look at the mayor’s housing plan, and I look at all these infill deals, at no point at all do they take into consideration the NYCHA voice.”

Infill is the controversial process by which the city is allowing private development on NYCHA land to create new housing, some of it affordable, as well as new revenue for NYCHA.

Despite their ties to NYCHA and efforts to provide oversight, the politicians in the room were heavily criticized as detached from conditions on the ground, taking home a $150,000 salary, and being funded by real estate interests. Questioners repeatedly expressed derision at the panelists not answering their questions, even those on the panel who are not politicians. The frustration of the NYCHA residents characterized the mood of the event.

“How do they get to go forward with RAD or infill when they’re under a federal investigation,” asked Karen Blondell, a resident of Red Hook Houses since 1982. RAD refers to Rental Assistance Demonstration, an Obama-era program that privatizes building management and changes ownership of the property to a public-private partnership, with funding coming from Section 8 vouchers rather than Section 9 public housing subsidies. One complex, the Ocean Bay Apartments in Rockaway, has undergone full RAD conversion. Initial results have appeared somewhat promising in the city, and elected officials have praised the use of the program, though many residents are worried that the program is de facto privatization of public housing.

Ampry-Samuel has been supportive of the RAD program in the past and has sided with the de Blasio administration on its expansion. However, she agreed with Blondell that critical repairs must be made the top priority of the authority.

“I don’t think NYCHA should move forward with anything right now,” Ampry-Samuel said of major new programs, “because there’s questionable management, there’s questionable dealings, and if there’s any kind of investigation happening right now, if Judge Pauley is reviewing the consent decree, I don’t think they should be moving forward. What they can be doing is just making sure that they’re fixing the heat and hot water systems right now that are happening as we’re going into the heating season, and they can make sure they’re going into the apartments doing what they’re supposed to be doing with the lead abatements.”

Blondell replied that her apartment underwent a long-awaited lead inspection last week, but the “industrial hygienist” who showed up for the inspection was armed only with a flashlight.

“Come on now, come on, I could do better testing by sending away for a kit to the EPA,” she said.

In response, Torres signaled his critiques of the consent decree.

“There’s no evidence that more monitoring is going to improve public housing,” Torres said. “We’ve had a monitor for mold for five years, and we’re no closer to remediating mold in public housing.” A vocal critic of the mayor and his housing policies in particular, Torres said at the town hall that affordable housing under the mayor’s plans are not actually affordable for the people they’re intended for -- some have called for incorporating NYCHA into the larger city affordable housing plan so that it gets more attention and is more clearly approached as part of a valuable stock of rent-regulated apartments, or for at least more closely aligning affordable housing and NYCHA plans.

There have been ample calls for prosecutions of NYCHA officials involved in the lead scandal. Though NYCHA is under federal investigation and its offices have been raided by authorities, prosecutors have not announced any charges.

“When we as residents had to deal with zero tolerance from the Clinton administration to present time, how is it okay for NYCHA to have falsified, fraudulently reported about lead, mold, and everything else, and no one’s being criminally charged,” Blondel asked. Smith noted in response that an active criminal investigation into NYCHA is currently taking place to look into fraudulent lead paint filings.

One woman, a former tenants association president at Washington Houses in East Harlem, referred to tenants association leaders as “crooks.”

“That tenant participation activity money that was meant to be spent for us in these developments to create programs and things for our families and so forth, that’s HUD money, we don’t even know what’s happening with it. We was promised there was gonna be a hearing, that ain’t happened yet,” she said.

Kenner, the tenant leader, spoke in defense of tenants associations.

“As president, you do not get paid, you know, it’s a thankless job,” Kenner said. “But you live where you live, and you want better for your people and yourself.”

The woman from Washington Houses vociferously criticized the city government and the Council members, and advocated for direct action against the city as a means of securing tenants’ rights.

“The only way we’re gonna get justice is by shutting 250 Broadway down,” she said in reference to where main NYCHA and City Council offices are located.

Smith made a similar call later in the program, saying that the hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents should vote as a bloc.

“If NYCHA residents, there are 400,000 people who live in New York City housing. So if you have an organized effort to vote with one voice, you will have a voice that people will actually listen to,” Smith said. This message received a mixed response in the room, and Vines reiterated a point made earlier about how NYCHA residents did not have monolithic thoughts on all issues.

“NYCHA is not a monolith,” Vines said. “We’re not all of the same mind on everything. Is it going to take those 400,000-plus residents of NYCHA to become single-issue voters, regardless of what your politics may be, if your home comes first? Is that really a viable answer?”

To that question, Torres responded in the affirmative and endorsed Smith’s proposal.

“Of course,” Torres said. “What’s more important than your home? I mean, if the political leadership of the city has no regard for your basic living conditions, are refusing to provide you heat or hot water, or protect you from lead poisoning, or lying to you repeatedly, of course you should hold them accountable. And if I have a constituent who’s living in disrepair, I have an obligation to make sure they get their repairs. Of course I do. You should hold us accountable.”

Watch the full BRIC TV NYCHA town hall

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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At Brooklyn Town Hall, Angry NYCHA Residents Told to Vote as a Bloc Thu, 04 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Politics Created NYCHA; Only Politics Will Save It http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7966-politics-created-nycha-only-politics-will-save-it http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7966-politics-created-nycha-only-politics-will-save-it nycha housing andrewjacksonhousing bronx hazard governor

(photo via the Governor's office)


The New York City Housing Authority’s first developments in the 1930s rose from the frustrations of a massive working class tired of sweating and suffering in crappy tenements. NYCHA grew in the decades that followed, to about 175,000 apartments, thanks to consistent support from politicians under tremendous pressure from everyday New Yorkers, housing advocates, and the media.

Politics saved NYCHA multiple times from the fate of public housing in other American cities. The civil rights movement forced NYCHA to desegregate its projects after the 1930s. Outrage over management in the late 1950s led to a sacking of callous leadership handpicked by Robert Moses. New York’s Congressional delegation convinced their colleagues in both the 1970s and 1990s to assume responsibility for tens of thousands of city and state public housing projects.

NYCHA residents, New York politicians, and many advocates, however, failed to adjust fast enough to a new national political reality. The rest of America, including most federal officials overseeing the program, viewed public housing as a dead program by the 1990s -- and treated it as such. Federal officials have since then intentionally refused to fund NYCHA’s capital or operating needs at a level sufficient to maintain the quality of life to which residents had become accustomed.

Frustrated residents for years disconnected from the political process despite the growing threat of aging apartments and buildings. Other affordable housing preservation and development programs took priority for many housing advocates and elected officials. City, federal, and state politicians pointed fingers at each other. The results of disinvestment are on display despite NYCHA apartments remaining full and much desired in New York.

In just a few years of crisis, however, it already seems the wheel is turning. Residents and housing advocates have kept the heat on politicians, feeding a steady stream of heartbreaking images and stories to the media and the courts. Elected officials can’t pick up the paper or turn on the TV without reading about a problem, often in their district. Crisis on an unprecedented scale has forced the issue to the front time and again: Sandy flooding, deep freeze, mold, lead.

Has the result of all this bad press been the abandonment of public housing as in other cities? No. Where bad press led to demolition in other cities, in New York negative attention seems to be leading to a steady and growing flow of money to renovate public housing. Demolition could still happen in New York but knocking down NYCHA is still a third rail of politics here -- and unimaginably complex to boot. We simply don’t have additional homes, short- or long-term, for more than 400,000 poor people.

Already, the totals won for NYCHA are mounting: $3 billion for Sandy reconstruction from FEMA; billions from the city so far and billions more promised (thanks to a consent decree) for roofs, boilers, lead tests, and more; hundreds of millions promised from the state. NYCHA has also quietly done what it can with remaining federal capital funds since the 1990s to stabilize conditions, working from the outside in on building envelope bricks and roofs. NYCHA successfully used the federal RAD program to upgrade housing for thousands of residents now living under private sector management—and plans for thousands of additional apartments in this program are underway.

Renovation of such a big system moves much more slowly than residents want and often fails to address immediate needs in their apartments -- but it is happening. That refitting of public housing is happening at all, rather than demolition, speaks to tenant activism of NYCHA residents and their advocates. When a crisis hit public housing elsewhere, politicians have used a crisis to demolish, not rebuild housing (New Orleans after Katrina, for instance, demolished vast projects).

New York’s public housing movement, however, needs to be creative and flexible in the next steps. Residents and their allies should use their political power to pressure politicians to reform labor unions at NYCHA so tenants get economical and high-quality service. Residents and advocates have given the unions a free pass, but this is a strategic mistake because, without a revolution in the hours, roles, and compensation of NYCHA maintenance and custodial staff (comprising 40 percent of NYCHA’s annual budget), NYCHA residents are not going to enjoy major improvements in their quality of life.

Residents and advocates also need to force the Mayor to come up with a reasonable long-term plan for investment. While an immediate commitment of the estimated $31 billion needed for top-to-bottom renovation is unrealistic, even a lot less can upgrade the quality of life. The city, for instance, needs to integrate NYCHA into its annual capital planning process. Given the growing importance of NYCHA to reducing homelessness, and of infill sites to the city’s affordable housing plans, it only makes sense that NYCHA gets a larger share of city support. Residents should also light a fire under Democratic majorities in Albany and the Governor to find money for additional renovation and public-private partnerships.

NYCHA remains a crucial service for many New Yorkers and one that helps preserve diverse neighborhoods in the face of gentrification. And just because a housing system delivers a product that many people wouldn’t choose for themselves doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable to lots of other people with fewer choices or different values. Mass services like public housing, public transit, and public education will always “lose” money because the people who need and use them generally lack the money to pay the real cost of running a complex urban service whether it be for a subsidized apartment, a subway ride, or a public classroom. It is, however, up to the recipients of these systems to use the political system to secure and protect these essential services.

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Nicholas Dagen Bloom is a professor at New York Institute of Technology and author of many books.

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

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Politics Created NYCHA; Only Politics Will Save It Tue, 02 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? $31.8 billion in NYCHA need, with Sean Campion http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7814-what-s-the-data-point-31-8-billion-in-nycha-need-with-sean-campion http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7814-what-s-the-data-point-31-8-billion-in-nycha-need-with-sean-campion whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 47 -- $31.8 billion, with Sean Campion [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

sean campion wtdp2

NYCHA needs about $32 billion in upgrades over five years to enter a state of good repair. The housing authority is in nothing short of a crisis, both in terms of its overall needs, which have been building for decades, and the recent lead paint scandal, which has led to a federal consent decree with the city and incoming federal monitor. Just after the new NYCHA needs assessment and its $32 billion price tag was recently released, Citizens Budget Commission released its own report about NYCHA's dire situation and where the authority must go to have a chance to survive. The report's author, Sean Campion, joined the podcast to discuss CBC's findings and recommendations. 

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? $31.8 billion in NYCHA need, with Sean Campion Thu, 19 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Scott Stringer on His ‘Agency Watch List,’ De Blasio’s Housing Plan & Restructuring NYCHA http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7796-scott-stringer-on-his-agency-watch-list-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-restructuring-nycha http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7796-scott-stringer-on-his-agency-watch-list-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-restructuring-nycha scott stringer comptroller

Comptroller Scott Stringer and Deputy Comptroller Marjorie Landau (photo: @NYCComptroller)


Comptroller Scott Stringer, the city’s chief fiscal officer who placed three city agencies on a new “watch list” in February due to concerns about their escalating spending and questionable return on investment, said recently that his office will be holding public hearings to provide stronger oversight, better transparency, and more urgency for reforms.

“We need more robust public hearings to the agencies, we need to demand more accountability from our government, and if we’re really going to be a progressive government, we need to ask whether the programs we’re putting forth are meeting the needs of struggling New Yorkers,” Stringer said during a recent appearance on the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission. “I’m going to continue to think about ways the comptroller’s office can hold these agencies accountable.”

During the discussion, Stringer not only explained his watch list, but also repeatedly criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio over what Stringer sees as an insufficient affordable housing plan; explained his belief that New York City public housing needs a new management structure; and said that the city is not budgeting responsibly.

As part of his analysis of the city budget, Stringer singled out the Department of Homeless Services, Department of Education, and Department of Correction as agencies whose spending was of most concern, forming his initial “watch list,” which includes a new web portal with detailed information about the three and plans for more robust examination of their spending and effectiveness.

In addition to public hearings, Stringer’s office inspects agencies through audits, investigations, and reports. The comptroller’s office is also responsible for approving contracts that city agencies enter with outside vendors. While Stringer mentioned on the podcast a general plan to hold his own public hearings on the watch list agencies, his office declined to provide more information in response to follow-up questions.

Stringer included the Department of Homeless Services on his watch list after determining that despite citywide spending for homelessness across all agencies more than doubling from $1.1 billion in 2013 to an anticipated $2.6 billion in 2019, the number of individuals living in shelters has grown from 49,000 in 2013 to more than 61,000 in early 2018.  

Stringer said unravelling the homeless crisis in New York City starts with taking accountability for unnecessary expenditures.

“I think we have to look at changing policy and I think we have to look at making sure every dollar counts because if we continue to house people in commercial hotels that cost $100 million and if we continue to stuff people into these terribly conditioned homeless shelters, that’s the core of what we believe in that has to change,” Stringer said. “Budgets are priorities, but you have to be smart about expenditure and analyze whether that money is doing the right thing by the people.”

While Mayor Bill de Blasio has put a variety of plans in place to combat homelessness, it has been one of the central struggles of his time in office. Stringer and de Blasio are both Democrats who were elected to their current positions in 2013 and reelected in 2017. They will both be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021; Stringer is widely expected to run for mayor in the upcoming election cycle.

When resetting his approach to homelessness a second time, in early 2017, de Blasio announced a plan to open 90 new shelters while leaving notoriously troubled cluster site shelter apartments and expensive commercial hotels. He also said the plan, which includes ongoing and enhanced mechanisms like rental subsidies and free lawyers for housing court, would result in a very modest decrease in the homeless population.

"What is the plan to really reduce homelessness?,” Stringer said. “Do not even say to me that, well, ‘our plan is to reduce homelessness by 2,500 in five years.’ At the cost of $3 billion? You’ve got to be kidding me. I mean everybody wake up here."

As for the Department of Education, another “watch list” agency, Stringer’s office has found that the DOE was spending inefficiently and he has questioned its ballooning central staff. In a trial test of eight schools, Comptroller audits found that one third of computer hardware was unaccounted for with no follow-up actions to implement basic controls. Stringer’s staff also discovered that despite a $1 billion investment in high-speed broadband, one in three teachers are still displeased with the service. Moreover, in what Stinger’s office called “a rampant waste and lack of accountability,” $2.7 billion in no-bid contracts were doled out by DOE.

“I don’t want to see a 24% increase in administrative costs at DOE,” Stringer said on the podcast. “I want money to go into the classroom.”

Stringer included the Department of Correction on his watch list in order to highlight increases in spending and violence despite a decrease in inmate populations at city jails. Since 2008, the average daily inmate population dropped from 13,850 to 9,500 in 2017 (and as of July 2, it was just about 8,200). However, the average annual cost to house an inmate more than doubled over that same period. Over the last decade, the number of violent incidents at city jails more than tripled.

“At Department of Correction, this is something amazing, population is going down, but violence is going up,” Stringer said on the podcast. “And now we’re spending $270,000 a year [per inmate] on holding 9,000 inmates on Rikers Island. OK, this is madness.”

The agency watch list relates to overall budgeting by the mayor and the City Council, and to the effectiveness of spending on key city services, as well as how much the city is spending overall, its long-term financial commitments, and its reserves. Mayor de Blasio and the Council recently passed an $89.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2019, which began July 1. The size of the city budget has increased dramatically under de Blasio, and Stringer has been sounding alarm bells all along about the rate of spending, the lack of a recommended savings program that was used under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and potentially insufficient reserves for the inevitable economic downturn.

On the podcast, Stringer said the city’s projected “budget cushion” — reserves as a percentage of city operating expenses — must be bolstered.

“I do think that there’s been a lost opportunity as it relates to putting more money aside for a rainy day,” Stringer said. “And we have now a record budget of $89 billion...I think we are going down a road that could cost us or hurt in the long run.”

The current budget reserves are about 9 percent of projected 2019 spending, about $8.5 billion in reserves, lower than what Stringer says is the optimal range of 12 to 18 percent. The “budget cushion” debate is a long-running one between the mayor and the comptroller. De Blasio has repeatedly stated that the city has “record” reserves, which is true in terms of absolute numbers, but as a percentage of spending, Stringer remains concerned.

Reserves are vital, Stringer explains, because when crisis inevitably hits the city, it often hurts the most vulnerable people, which was was the case after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, he said. Stringer has called on de Blasio to compel his agency commissioner to “scrub” their departments for savings, recommending the type of program Bloomberg used where he insisted on commissioners identify a certain percentage of their budgets for slashing, even if the cuts were not followed through on. De Blasio has not required this of his agency heads, instead instituting a voluntary savings program.

“Well, let’s go scrub the agencies for efficiencies,” Stringer said on the podcast. “That’s something that hasn’t happened in four years. Lets go agency by agency. Say to commissioners, ‘Look, there’s new technology. You haven’t looked at how to save money in an agency in four years.’ Previous mayors used to scrub those budgets and say, ‘Hold on with those expenses.’ That’s one way to do it. The city, the mayor’s refused to do that, I disagree with him. Get in there, get those savings, put is aside for that rainy day.”

As for de Blasio’s affordable housing plan -- which seeks to build or preserve 300,000 rent-regulated units by 2026 -- Stringer had perhaps his harshest words.

"There’s no real affordable housing plan to meet the needs the poorest New Yorkers," Stringer told podcast hosts Maria Doulis and Ben Max. “[W]e need a robust new housing plan," Stringer said.

"We need to think about a new subsidy program. Problem is, right now, for-profit developers is a lot of cases are, yes, they're building more density, and bigger projects in places in Brooklyn like East New York, but the reality is the affordable housing that they’re proposing, the [affordability] is not reflective of the population of the community, so the affordability is not affordable in the community, and we are gentrifying people out of the communities they built,” Stringer said.

And on the New York City Housing Authority, NYCHA, home to more than 400,000 residents of public housing that is falling apart and in need of more than $30 billion of repairs and upgrades, Stringer said it is time to change the governance model.

"That’s why I said to all who would listen, that we need to change the management structure at NYCHA,” Stringer said on the podcast. “It is abysmal. You’ve got a seven member board that doesn’t know what’s up. You’ve got a Chair, and then a [general] manager -- depending on the politics within NYCHA, one has power, the other one doesn’t, vice versa. Even in this crisis, you know, we don’t have a counsel, a chief financial officer in NYCHA, these positions are going unfilled, there’s no capacity in NYCHA.”

“I mean look, City Hall, wake up, do your part,” Stringer said, to ensure there’s “a structure in place” to oversee spending of billions of dollars and work with the federal monitor that will soon be hired based on a consent decree the city has entered with federal investigators. “But at the end of the day, the monitor doesn’t run it, management runs it, so we need one Chair, one person in charge,” Stringer continued. “Also, this is a time to get private industry involved, let’s get the best in the business from around the city, from all walks of life to begin looking at this amazing challenge before NYCHA falls apart.”

De Blasio’s office declined to respond to the comptroller’s criticisms and proposals.

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by Jordan Kimmel, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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Scott Stringer on His ‘Agency Watch List,’ De Blasio’s Housing Plan & Restructuring NYCHA Tue, 10 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000