Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1330 Sun, 22 Oct 2017 04:33:30 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) 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
Under Trump, A Potential Silver Lining for NYCHA http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7152:under-trump-a-potential-silver-lining-for-nycha http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7152:under-trump-a-potential-silver-lining-for-nycha nycha aerial

NYCHA and the city (photo: @ZodetN)


Since the January inauguration of Donald Trump as president, department heads and administrators throughout New York City government have been bracing for negative reverberations, with many expecting slashed federal spending and harmful policy rollbacks.

At least one city agency sees a potential silver lining. Shola Olatoye, the chair and CEO of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) – the authority tasked with running public housing serving about 400,000 city residents – has sent a letter to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with a list of regulations that the agency finds unnecessarily cumbersome or counterproductive.

The letter, dated June 14 of this year, was sent in response to a request for public comment by sent out by HUD as part of its efforts to comply with Executive Order 13777, “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs” – Trump’s seventh, signed on January 30 – which is probably best known for requiring that for every new regulation issued by a federal agency, two others must be identified for repeal. The order also requires that, in most cases, agencies cannot issue regulations estimated to increase costs without offsetting that cost with other regulatory savings.

Olatoye mentioned that NYCHA was seeking federal regulatory rollbacks when asked about any potential positives for the authority under the Trump administration during an episode of the “What’s the [Data] Point?” podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission. “I strongly believe the federal government has an obligation—legal obligation—to continue to fund it, support it, and invest in it. Full stop,” Olatoye said of public housing.

“Can we use the, shall we say, bias of this administration towards the private sector, towards deregulation to help us? Absolutely, and we should. We have a three-page list of regulations that would allow us to move faster in the development process,” she added.

The letter, addressed to HUD’s Office of General Counsel, states that NYCHA “believes that many of HUD’s regulations are essential for the federal government to provide safe, quality housing for low-income households,” but adds that “NYCHA believes that through regulatory modifications HUD can increase the effectiveness of [public housing authorities’] core functions.”

The rationale is largely that red tape emanating from D.C. needlessly imposes onerous controls that raise costs and slows down NYCHA’s daily operations. For several specific regulations that NYCHA identifies, it states that required processes are either unnecessary or “less effective than local determinations.”

The recommendations to HUD encompass three broad categories: to “align with private housing industry practices to increase efficiency and further public-private partnerships”; to “utilize state and local data and knowledge to ensure HUD is responsive to market changes and to increase accuracy of HUD expenditures”; and to “reduce duplicative requirements, simplify approval processes, and increase flexibility to increase [public housing authority] efficiency, shift decision-making to the local level, and reduce HUD’s monitoring.”

Each of these is further broken down into particular areas, with lists and brief descriptions of specific active or forthcoming regulations that the agency wants reconsidered.

For example, a subsection under the state and local data subheading asks HUD to modify 24 CFR § 888.113 (e) – a reference to Title 24 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which delineates HUD regulations. That section deals with allowable data sources to determine what constitutes a fair market rent in an area; NYCHA would like HUD to allow the evaluation to take into account data compiled locally by public housing authorities (PHA) to more accurately gauge market conditions. Current standards call for the usage of the American Community Survey and local survey data collected through mail and phone surveys.

Many of the changes proposed by NYCHA would address grievances largely particular to a housing authority of its size and operational complexity (it is the largest PHA in North America, operating over 176,000 apartments in addition to managing the city’s Section 8 rental assistance voucher program). Like the market rent request, several would seek to transfer functions and processes to local control and move certain costs more in line with local standards.

In all there are just over 20 different regulatory stipulations and notices that NYCHA is requesting be modified. A review of the public database of comments submitted to HUD in relation to assessing regulations shows that the federal agency has received documentation from multiple public housing authorities, including the Philadelphia Housing Authority, San Diego Housing Commission, and the Illinois Housing Development Authority, among multiple others. NYCHA’s submission appears to be one of the longest, at 12 pages.

Brian Sullivan, a spokesperson for HUD, said the agency could not comment on whether any particular regulations have yet been identified as priorities for reexamination but that it was currently in the process of going through public comments and determining how to proceed.

A recent New York magazine article reported that the department under recently appointed HUD Secretary Ben Carson has shown itself willing to tear down much of its administrative apparatus. The department’s Region II, which includes New York and New Jersey, also has a new administrator, Lynne Patton – a longtime confidant of the Trump family and event planner with the Trump organization – though it is not clear what role she would play in the regulatory review.

See the full letter below:

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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Under Trump, A Potential Silver Lining for NYCHA Thu, 24 Aug 2017 02:36:23 +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
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.

***
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:

***
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):

***
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
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 5 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5920:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-october-5 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5920:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-october-5 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will include a focus on what the city can do to stop gas-related explosions after another such explosion occurred this weekend, this time in Borough Park; education politics and policy, as the pro-charter, anti-de Blasio group Families for Excellent Schools will hold a large rally; a continuation of negotiation and criticism between city and state entities over MTA funding; and more.

Oh, and it's the Major League Baseball playoffs, with both the Mets and Yankees in the post-season for the first time in a long time, with many hoping for a "subway series" World Series between the two, a la 2000, when the Yankees defeated the Mets.

TRACKING DE BLASIO: With the threat from Hurricane Joaquin abated, Mayor de Blasio decided to go through with his trip to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore on Friday and Saturday. The mayor delivered remarks at a reception for the State Innovation Exchange Conference on Friday, then attended the United States Conference of Mayors Fall Leadership Meeting on Saturday. The mayor then headed back to Borough Park, Brooklyn, where he attended to the emergency gas explosion that tore apart a building, killing at least one and injuring several.

The incident is another in a string of gas explosions, including East Harlem and the East Village, that has many worried and talking about a need for new measures to combat the deadly incidents. Gov. Cuomo announced he was deploying representatives to investigate and city officials are calling for action. This explosion appears to have been caused by mistakes made during the removal of an oven.

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will be on Staten Island for the groundbreaking of The Staten Island Family Justice Center, at which the mayor will speak around 10 a.m. Read more from the Staten Island Advance, including that Staten Island will join the other boroughs, each of which already has such a center, which "provide comprehensive criminal justice, civil legal and social services free of charge to victims of domestic violence, elderly abuse and sex trafficking in the other boroughs."

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Bronx County Courthouse, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman "will announce a major crackdown on distributors of synthetic marijuana and other designer drugs."

On Monday morning, "State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan joins state Sen. Martin Golden on a walking tour and media availability in Gerritsen Beach, starting in front of 3078 Gerritsen Ave., Brooklyn," according to City & State NY.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will announce the "launch of MonumentArt, an International Mural Festival hosted in East Harlem and the South Bronx," from La Marqueta.

On Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James "will travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Funders' Committee for Civic Participation conference."

Monday evening, First Lady McCray will be among the honorees of a Feminist Power Award from the Feminist Press.

At 8 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer "Receives the Pacesetter Award at The National Association of Investment Companies 45th Annual Meeting & Convention Welcome Reception."

Monday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 6 pm
  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan) 6:30 pm
  • CM Julissa Ferreras (District 21, Queens) 7 pm

Tuesday
Tuesday, at 10 a.m., a press conference in PACE University's downtown campus will mark the beginning of Poverty Awareness Week, which is co-sponsored by Pace University and The Mayor's Office. The week will include a series of events. Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. will be one keynote speaker; Shola Olatoye, Chair and CEO of NYCHA will participate in a discussion on "Local Initiatives to Eradicate Poverty."

On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio "will deliver remarks at the ribbon-cutting for the Brooklyn College Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School for Cinema at Steiner Studios."

At 5 p.m., the Mayor will appear on WCBS Newsradio 880.

In the evening, Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and many others will attend a birthday celebration for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host "Why New York? Our Broken Bail System." The event will be moderated by New York Times journalist Shaila Dewan, with panelists: Judge George Grasso, public defender Josh Saunders, criminal justice reform advocate Glenn E. Martin, and an individual who couldn't afford bail.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, NY Tech Meetup will be held at NYU, with a number of New York companies presenting demos of technologies that they are developing.

Tuesday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 4 pm
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 6 pm
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 pm
  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan) 6:30 pm
  • CM Brad Lander (District 39, Brooklyn) 6:30 pm
  • CM Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens) 8 pm

Wednesday
JCOPE is set to meet Wednesday morning in Albany.

Wednesday morning at 8 a.m., City & State NY holds its fifth annual "On Energy" event, inviting leaders in government, advocacy and business to speak on a number of topics related to the future of energy. Among the topics of discussion will be Governor Andrew Cuomo's regulatory overhaul in New York, Mayor de Blasio's 80 by 50 plan, and more. The event includes a panel with Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director of Center for an Urban Future; Nilda Mesa, Director at NYC Mayor's Office of Sustainability; Kathryn Garcia, Commissioner, NYC Department of Sanitation. Other notable speakers to appear include: Richard Kauffman, NYS Chair of Energy & Finance; Arthur "Jerry" Kremer, Chairman of New York AREA; Ambassador Ron Kirk, Chairman of CASEnergy; Kevin Parker, a New York state Senator and ranking member of the Energy & Telecommunications Committee.

On Wednesday, The Families for Excellent Schools rally, postponed from last week because of weather and "to demand equal opportunity in our schools," will take place, starting mid-morning at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, followed by a march across the Brooklyn Bridge, and a 12:30 p.m. press conference at City Hall. The rally is, in essence, to promote more more charter schools and criticize Mayor de Blasio's education agenda, which does not include more charters. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is expected to headline the rally, along with several high-profile performers, including Jennifer Hudson.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • 10 a.m., The Committee on Transportation will meet to discuss a bill that would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a study on the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists along bus routes. DOT would then institute new safety measures based on the data. The Committee will also discuss a bill that would require the identification of dangerous intersections based on incidents involving pedestrians, and implement curb extensions in such areas. The Committee will also make a decision on resolutions that would require the MTA to instal rear guards on bus wheels and to study ways to eliminate blind spots for buses.
  • Also 10 a.m., The Committee on Aging will hold an oversight hearing on older adult employment.

At 10 a.m. The East 50s Alliance will hold a community rally to protest the planned construction of a 900-foot tower in the 58th street residential area. The residents are "deeply concerned that the tower will diminish the safety, accessibility and livability of a narrow side street during a lengthy construction process and forever after." City Council Member Ben Kallos will speak.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Vivertio, along with Council Members Paul Vallone and Vincent Gentile and others, will hold a Celebration of Italian Heritage at the Council Chambers in City Hall. The event will also celebrate Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday.

From 6 to 8 p.m. at Fordham Law School, The Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center and the Women's City Club of New York will host "This Bridge Called My Back: Women of Color and the Fight for Economic Security", on "how gender intersects with economic and racial inequality in New York City." Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University, will moderate the panel, with Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York; Luna Ranjit, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Adhikaar; Joanne N. Smith Founder and Executive Director of Girls for Gender Equality; and Margarita Rosa, Executive Director of National Center for Law and Economic Justice participating in the discussion.

Wednesday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6 pm
  • CM Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Manhattan) 6 pm
  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 6 pm
  • CM Mathieu Eugene (District 40, Brooklyn) 6:30 pm
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Karen Koslowitz (District 29, Queens) 7 pm

Thursday
On Thursday at the City Council:

  • 9:30 a.m., Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss three land use applications in Manhattan.
  • 10 a.m., Committee on Finance will meet regarding the Department of Finance's Office of the Taxpayer Advocate.
  • 11 a.m., Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet to discuss a land use application in Brooklyn
  • 1 p.m., Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to discuss another land use application in Brooklyn

Thursday at the New York State Legislature: the Assembly Standing Committee on Health, Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health, and Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities will hold a joint public hearing regarding Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment and Services. "The Committees are seeking oral and written testimony from patients and their families, clinicians, service providers, and the Department on topics including the incidence, severity and consequences of TBI; treatment and service appropriateness and availability, including the rights of patients sent out-of-state; and issues relating to the transition of the TBI Waiver program to managed care."

At 9 a.m. Thursday New York State Assembly Members Latoya Joyner and Marcos Crespo will kick off "Let's Put Our Cities on the Map," sponsored and hosted by Google at the Bronx Museum of Arts, which will offer free counseling for small businesses on how to reach local customer bases, specifically by using "SmartLogic" online tools.

"The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Thursday, October 8 at 10:00 AM."

At 5 p.m. Thursday, EmblemHealth and LaborPress will honor 12 labor union members, from eight different labor unions, for their remarkable contributions to the labor communities at the fourth annual "Heroes of Labor Awards". EmblemHealth has invited many city elected officials to speak, several are expected.

At 6 p.m. Thursday in Washington, D.C., the Brennan Center for Justice and Vox will hold "The Politics of Participation: Building an Engaged Citizenry for Millennials and Beyond," including City Council Member Eric Ulrich. It is billed as "a candid conversation about what the shifting demographic landscape means for grassroots movements, political action, and civic engagement; how can we shape our democracy into one that is truly representative of the people being governed?"

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will hold "The Changing Face of Activism," which will explore the historical progression of activism from the 1960s desegregation movement to the present day Black Lives Matter movement. Moderated by Alethia Jones, a leader of 1199 SEIU, the panel will feature activist Barbara Smith; Joo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform; and Jose Lopez, Lead Organizer at Make the Road NY and member of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

At 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Dan Abrams of ABC News will talk with Ray Kelly, the longest-serving NYPD Commissioner, at the 92nd Street Y. Kelly will hold a book signing for his new memoir Vigilance: My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City, after his talk with Mr. Abrams.

Thursday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Steve Levin (District 33, Brooklyn) 5 pm
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 pm
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Karen Koslowitz (District 29, Queens) 7 pm
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 8 pm

Friday and the weekend
Friday at 8:15 a.m., NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton will speak at New York Law School, as part of the CityLaw breakfast series.

Weekend participatory budgeting:

  • Friday, CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 1 pm.
  • Saturday, CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn), time TBA.
  • Sunday, CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn), time TBA.

*Note: we'll publish our next 'Week Ahead' on Monday, October 13 given the Columbus Day holiday

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 5 Sun, 04 Oct 2015 05:00:00 +0000
18 Months of NYCHA Scrutiny, Reform and Conflict http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5835:18-months-of-nycha-scrutiny-reform-and-conflict-de-blasio http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5835:18-months-of-nycha-scrutiny-reform-and-conflict-de-blasio de blasio nycha olatoye

Mayor de Blasio at a NYCHA announcement (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


"If we were to lose public housing," warns City Council Member Ritchie Torres, "we might have a shelter system overflowing with hundreds of thousands of people."

With more than 400,000 residents, the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, is the largest public housing system in the country. Never far from the headlines due to ongoing problems, NYCHA is under even more scrutiny courtesy of a series of audits by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has made the authority a central focus of his early tenure.

Torres, who grew up in public housing in the Bronx and now chairs the so-named committee in the City Council, points to the stakes as debates over NYCHA management and oversight rage. Mayor Bill de Blasio has made NYCHA a far greater priority than prior administrations, but the push to ensure a sound public housing stock remains urgent for many.

NYCHA houses many of the city's poorest residents. Under NYCHA rules, those residents pay rent that does not exceed 30 percent of their family's income. The housing may be low cost but is often also low quality with recurring and widespread complaints of leaky roofs, mold, slow repairs, unhygienic living conditions, and lack of security. The comptroller's audits - six in 18 months - have aimed a spotlight at these and other long-running problems at the authority.

Representatives of NYCHA, headed by Chair Shola Olatoye, and of de Blasio's office, which is ultimately responsible for NYCHA, have on several occasions pushed back against Stringer's audits. They cite many changes implemented over the past year and a half since de Blasio's inauguration. There has been back-and-forth as the administration and the comptroller's office continue to argue over the data used in the audits and whether Stringer's reports give enough credit for work already underway. But what all stakeholders, including de Blasio, Stringer, Olatoye, Torres, and others do agree on is the need for reform.

"The status quo has forced NYCHA residents to shoulder the burden of billions in disinvestment from the federal and state governments, and live with mold, broken heating, vermin and too many other symptoms of a crumbling Housing Authority," de Blasio stated in May when announcing the "NextGeneration NYCHA" plan. "We will take every action to help NYCHA emerge from the financial crisis that has crippled its ability to provide safe housing in good repair to hundreds of thousands of our city's hardworking families."

According to the announcement of NextGeneration NYCHA, it is "a comprehensive ten-year plan to stabilize the financial crisis facing New York City's public housing and deliver long-needed improvements to residents' quality of life by changing the way NYCHA is funded, managed, and how it serves its residents." And one formulated "with the input of hundreds of stakeholders and residents."

Created in 1934 by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, NYCHA is the country's oldest public housing authority. But since 2001, a steep drop in funding from federal, state, and city governments has led to severe deterioration of living conditions in NYCHA housing. Many buildings are crumbling, not having undergone any major repairs or renovations for decades.

"Most municipalities have demolished their public housing," says Torres. "So far, our approach has been demolition by neglect."

As conditions worsened, calls to deal with long-neglected NYCHA housing increased. By 2012, the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had to respond due to "the extent and duration of resident outcry," according to Victor Bach, senior housing policy analyst at Community Service Society. In its last year, the Bloomberg administration redirected part of NYCHA's administrative budget toward a concentrated effort to target repairs and tackle over 420,000 outstanding work orders.

In 2013, conditions in NYCHA housing were highlighted in the mayoral election, with candidates agreeing that reform was needed. In July, the top five Democratic candidates spent a night in a NYCHA building in Harlem. The 'sleepover' arranged by Rev. Al Sharpton was to raise awareness of the decrepit living conditions and backlog of unresolved repair requests in NYCHA buildings across the city. "People in the city in a million years would never accept this," then-candidate de Blasio said after his night in public housing. "Yet NYCHA tenants are forced to accept this every single day."

With that in mind, since de Blasio became mayor, the administration has taken significant steps to improve life in NYCHA housing. "This administration, this mayor, from day one has made the Housing Authority a key component of his agenda," Olatoye recently told NY1.

To help the financially struggling agency, the mayor has both directed additional funding toward NYCHA as well as relieving it of financial obligations. The most significant changes under de Blasio include waiving NYCHA's $30 million annual payment in lieu of taxes and waiving the $72 million payments the housing authority was being forced to make to the city each year to cover the cost of its policing. "NYCHA effectively every year has over $100 million more to go into its operations for management and repairs than it did before the new mayor," explains Bach. Some of those funds are being used for roof repairs, the removal of unneeded scaffolding and shedding, projects to improve security and energy efficiency, and "fix-it-forward," an initiative to overhaul maintenance by increasing the speed and efficiency of repairs.

In May, NYCHA announced the 10-year NextGeneration plan to cut costs, get new sources of revenue, and improve and modernize its management. "Our plan reflects the tough decisions necessary to deliver a stronger, more effective housing authority that can take care of its buildings and its people," said de Blasio when announcing NextGen.

"What is cause for hope is that NYCHA has a master plan for preserving public housing over the long haul with political capital behind it, the backing of the mayor himself behind it," Council Member Torres told Gotham Gazette. While supportive of Olatoye and of de Blasio's approach, Torres is also wary, and told Gotham Gazette that he will hold oversight hearings this fall.

The NextGen plan includes initiatives such as OPMOM, a pilot program currently operating in 18 NYCHA developments to localize decision-making and give on-site housing management more autonomy. The agency describes such initiatives as a learning experience for its own administration. "We're learning what works and what doesn't on our end as an authority," says Aja Worthy-Davis, NYCHA's deputy press secretary. "It's an ongoing process."

Meanwhile, Comptroller Stringer has carried out six audits of the housing authority, revealing the scale of the problems with NYCHA management and maintenance, including questions about its inventory, apartments kept vacant for years due to renovations, and long wait periods for repairs.

No other city agency has been audited this many times by Stringer. Some, like Council Member Torres, believe this emphasis is justified. "There's no other institution that is confronted with an existential crisis to the extent that NYCHA is," he says.

Stringer frames his focus on NYCHA as a matter of equal treatment for those who live in public housing. "They don't make a lot of money, but they're the heart and soul of the city and they've been discriminated against for too long," he told Brian Lehrer of NYCHA residents, on WNYC radio.

To examine NYCHA's progress so far under its NextGen plan, Torres' Committee on Public Housing will hold a series of hearings, starting in September. "One of the problems with Council oversight is that the Council is largely dependent on the information from the very agencies it oversees," says Torres. "That is why the comptroller's audits are so critical, because it provides the Council with a source of independent information on which to conduct oversight hearings."

Torres has expressed support for de Blasio and Olatoye thus far, even co-authoring a Daily News op-ed with a NYCHA resident association president in June. In the column, the authors highlight major problems at NYCHA and that they "do not agree with everything NYCHA does or plans to do." But, they say that they know they can work with Olatoye and that "it's clear to us, and should be clear to all New Yorkers, that Mayor de Blasio has made the city's Housing Authority a priority."

The Council hearings will give NYCHA a new, very public chance to respond to the comptroller's data and highlight progress under the new administration. So far, NYCHA's response to the succession of Stringer audits has been mixed, at times accepting and at other times defensive.

In a joint press conference with the comptroller on May 15, after an audit of NYCHA's supply inventory, Olatoye took a conciliatory tone. "I thank the Comptroller for uncovering some troubling deficiencies in our supply chain and inventory management practices that hamper our ability to provide timely and quality service to our residents," she said. "These deficiencies are simply unacceptable. We are working in partnership with the comptroller to overhaul our supply and inventory practices to become a more effective and efficient landlord."

"The inventory audit – that was helpful," acknowledges Worthy-Davis. "That was something we stood with him on because that was a clear area that was not handled the way it should have been handled."

While conceding some problems, NYCHA has also defended itself on occasion and responded to some of the criticism in the comptroller's audits, contending the use of outdated information and pointing to reforms made under de Blasio and Olatoye.

The series began with Stringer's first audit of NYHCA, released July 24, 2014. The audit criticized the housing authority for depriving residents of wages by not ensuring that contractors comply with federal laws mandating that 30 percent of new hires are NYCHA residents and low-income New Yorkers. The audit looked at capital project contracts that NYCHA awarded between 2010 and 2012.

NYCHA pushed back, questioning the numbers used - its response read, "Under the new leadership of New York Housing Authority Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye, NYCHA is proud of its job growth and retention initiatives that continue to support our residents and the NYC economy too, so we're disappointed to see these efforts so publically [sic] misrepresented with old and incomplete data."

A financial audit of NYCHA was released on December 16, 2014; it found that cash-strapped NYCHA missed out on at least $692 million in revenue and cost-saving opportunities, and failed to meet revenue and savings projections. In its audit response, NYCHA agreed with "a number of the recommendations" but called the report "seriously flawed" in key aspects, citing the comptroller's use of information from several years prior to the scope of the report and questioning its use of "decisions and activities" that "virtually all" occurred before de Blasio took office. And, NYCHA wrote that the report "exaggerates and/or mischaracterizes" key information around cost-savings opportunities.

Another financial audit, released in May of this year, examined whether NYCHA procedures for verifying Section 8 Housing voucher program participant-reported information met the requirements of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The audit looked at Section 8 participants who were active up to November 2013 and found that NYCHA generally met the HUD requirements though there were discrepancies in the records of some participants. According to Stringer's office, "NYCHA officials were pleased with the report's conclusion" about its general procedures, but pushed back on other conclusions. The audit says that "NYCHA officials do not appear to have closely reviewed the results of our data analysis" and "did not provide any documentation or analysis" to support their claims.

"NYCHA agreed with four of the report's five recommendations," the audit says.

More recently, there was pushback from NYCHA and the de Blasio administration after the release of the June 24, 2015 audit, which stated that NYCHA keeps apartments vacant for an average of seven years while doing major repairs. De Blasio representative Peter Kadushin and Stringer spokesman Eric Sumberg got into an argument on Twitter over the validity of the data used in the audit. While Sumberg pointed out that NYCHA told auditors there were 2,342 vacant apartments as of September 2014, Kadushin responded that the number had gone down to 1,024 by May 2015. However, in a Daily News report at the time of the audit, NYCHA shared that it had 2,196 vacant apartments in May - good, though, for "a 39% decrease from the beginning of 2013." According to Stringer's audit, as of December NYCHA had a waiting list of 273,391 people, the News reported.

Earlier this summer, on July 13, Jean Weinberg, NYCHA's chief communications officer, issued a statement in response to the latest audit: "The Comptroller is recycling old news on NYCHA's maintenance and repairs." She called the data used in the audit "outdated," referring to the fact that it had reviewed work orders from January 1, 2013 to July 31, 2014.

The difference in figures is at least in part a matter of timing. Audits take several months to a year to complete and are based on figures available to the comptroller's office at the time they are started. But during the months that an audit is carried out, the situation on the ground can change.

This appears to have been the case with the vacancy audit released in June 2015, which used September 2014 vacancy figures. "We had already started work on a good chunk of those units," NYCHA's Worthy-Davis explains. She says that by the time the report was released, many of the apartments were ready to be rented to tenants. "We didn't get this information and decide to rent those units and start breaking down walls," she added. "This is work that's already been ongoing. It's our goal, even though we already have a low - very, very, very low - vacancy. Our goal is always to obviously turnover apartments and get folks who are on these waiting lists, in them."

"We respect the work that the Comptroller is doing," Worthy-Davis continued. "It's important work, but we as an agency, we make decisions based on the best interests of our residents and what we need to do to sustain our buildings and our infrastructure and keep NYCHA running."

In most cases, NYCHA representatives have agreed with Stringer's assessments in terms of general problems, but don't appreciate the comptroller painting a picture of ongoing dysfunction when they have reforms well under way.

Stringer has pulled no punches, and given NYCHA little credit for implementing reform. He has promised to follow up on his audits and has told Gotham Gazette that NYCHA would remain a central focus. In releasing the latest audit, he said, "For the 400,000 New Yorkers who live in NYCHA housing, the Authority's handling of repairs is a case study in mismanagement." He did add, though, "I know that NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye is committed to turning the Authority around." But, the latter statement was a way of introducing Stringer's own "four-part reform agenda to expand transparency and accountability at the Authority."

While NYCHA and the Comptroller's office debate numbers, for others, those numbers are fairly irrelevant. "I think the findings of the audits point to things that NYCHA needs to pay attention to," says Bach of Community Service Society. For Bach, the difference in the figures presented by both sides is marginal considering the scale of the problem. "I'm less concerned with the nitty gritty of the numbers that the comptroller includes in his audit than with the direction of change and whether things are better than they were two years ago, or worse, or the same."

And he believes things are headed in the right direction. "The problems are still enormous, NYCHA still faces a major challenge," says Bach. "But I think there's no question that the situation today is better than it was two years ago."

"Improvement is happening as broadly across the board as possible, as quickly as possible," says Worthy-Davis. She says the agency understands the frustration of residents who have been dealing with NYCHA over the years under various administrations. But, she adds, "It's going to take a little bit of time."

"This is 40 years of neglect that is not going to change in 15 months," Olatoye said on NY1.

After years of neglect, some NYCHA residents, like Sumner House resident association president Raymond Ballard, are also cautiously optimistic. While he has not yet seen much improvement, he says, he is hopeful that the new NYCHA initiatives will make a difference. "We have to go up now," says Ballard. "I know there are programs put in place to correct some of the things that they have been neglecting over the years." He has already seen efforts to fix brickwork at risk of collapse and the start of roof repairs. Yet, a lot more remains to be done. "I believe now that there will be some changes," he adds.

"I have to be hopeful because otherwise I think we'd be close to being homeless," says Ballard. "That's the shape that most developments are in now."

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by Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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18 Months of NYCHA Scrutiny, Reform and Conflict Sun, 02 Aug 2015 23:46:03 +0000