Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1330 Mon, 18 Dec 2017 22:38:36 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7355:max-murphy-podcast-nycha-ceo-shola-olatoye http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7355:max-murphy-podcast-nycha-ceo-shola-olatoye

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


December 7, 2017 - Max & Murphy: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye

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NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye has been at the center of a firestorm lately related to the public housing authority's lapses in lead paint inspections, violating federal and city laws, filing faulty documentation, and not telling NYCHA residents and the public about the years-long gaps as soon as leadership discovered them.

Olatoye faced hours of questioning at a City Council oversight hearing on Tuesday, then joined the podcast on Thursday for some follow-up and other questions about the lead paint situation and more. Olatoye discusses whether she and NYCHA need to regain residents' trust, whether she offered Mayor Bill de Blasio her resignation, and where the conversation around NYCHA -- home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers -- needs to go next.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy and guest @SholaOlatoye of @NYCHA. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye Thu, 07 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7332:what-s-the-state-role-in-nycha-oversight http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7332:what-s-the-state-role-in-nycha-oversight torres nycha monitor idc presser

CM Torres and the call for a state NYCHA monitor (photo: @RitchieTorres)


As Mayor Bill de Blasio and leaders of the embattled New York City Housing Authority continue to respond to fallout from revelations that NYCHA had failed for years to comply with federal and local laws around lead paint inspections, some elected officials are renewing calls for the state take a more active role in the city’s massive public housing system.

NYCHA, which has for decades has been plagued by lapses in safety protocols, sometimes with tragic results, includes 175,000 housing units home to well over the official tally of 400,000 New Yorkers. A report by the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI), released earlier this month, indicates that NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye knew of deficiencies in lead inspections in early 2016 but signed off on paperwork submitted to the federal government certifying that all the regulations had been met. Olatoye explained that soon after she had become aware of the gap, which began under the prior administration, she alerted NYCHA’s federal regulators and jumpstarted the lead inspections.

DOI called for the appointment of a “third-party monitor” to ensure compliance with lead and safety rules as well as to perform regular safety checks on NYCHA units.

De Blasio and Olatoye have resisted both the calls for more state oversight and the recommendation for the outside monitor, instead implementing their own set of reforms, including new protocols and a new internal compliance unit, while multiple top NYCHA officials were either forced out or demoted. Though he also sat on the revelations for over a year, de Blasio argued that NYCHA was already addressing the lead inspection shortfalls and admitted that he should have made the issue public sooner. He has strongly pushed back against calls for Olatoye’s removal.

As a public authority, the 84-year-old agency -- the oldest and largest such low- and middle-income housing provider in the country -- is technically under the purview of the state, though state law grants the mayor control over appointment of board members and leadership.

But in the wake of the lead-inspection revelations, several lawmakers want an increased state role in NYCHA oversight. Members of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, held a November 20 press conference to push for a state monitor, as outlined in legislation introduced by Klein earlier this year, which would create an Office of the Independent Monitor within the Department of Homes and Community Renewal, to be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Klein and other members of the IDC were also joined by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the Council’s public housing committee, and other elected officials.

The state played a larger role in financing and governing the agency in the years immediately after World War II, when there was a large state-wide public housing program, but that contribution shrunk over time to near non-existence, and NYCHA relies almost entirely on the federal housing agency, HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), for subsidizing its operating and capital needs.

While NYCHA has accumulated the $17 billion in capital needs to get into a state of good repair, the authority has also struggled to remain in the black in its yearly operating budget, which has actually been stabilized under de Blasio and Olatoye, even without state money.

State-provided operating subsidies to NYCHA were ended by Governor George Pataki in 1998, leaving the housing agency with a $60 million annual operating shortfall, according to NYCHA records. To address its growing annual operating deficit, which was as high as $235 million in 2006, NYCHA transferred many federal subsidies meant for capital improvements into operations, which ensured the system would fall into further disrepair. Since 2006, NYCHA’s personnel has been reduced from 15,000 to 11,000, with many of the jobs lost white collar positions that played a role in compliance. New York City followed the State’s example and by 2004 it had essentially stopped subsidizing NYCHA operations, further crippling the agency, according to according to urban historian and professor Dr. Nicholas Dagen Bloom, co-editor of the anthology Affordable Housing in New York.

“In the past 20 years, there’s a been a federal reduction, but compared to the state and city, HUD is really the only game in town,” said Bloom. “The city and state are almost entirely dependent on HUD for the real or long term oversight. So, there’s kind of a bureaucratic insanity where there is less money, but [NYCHA] is supposed to maintain the same standards.”

NYCHA has been stabilized somewhat under de Blasio, with the 2015 release of NextGeneration NYCHA, an ambitious, 10-year strategic plan to get the authority back on track. Thanks to an increase in city investment, the operating budget is no longer running a deficit and plans are moving ahead to bring in more revenue, but NYCHA has not made much headway in addressing the billions of dollars worth of unmet capital needs. As part of the plan, the de Blasio administration relieved NYCHA of more than $100 million in annual bills toward police services and property taxes. In 2015 and 2016, for the first time in years, the authority achieved an operating surplus, one just under HUD’s recommended three-month cushion. However, the most recent $35 million federal cut, announced in March, is expected to plummet NYCHA’s operating budget back into the red.

Over the past few years, NYCHA has benefited from some capital investment from the city address some infrastructural deficiencies. Since 2015 the city has infused the authority with $1.3 billion to fix 952 roofs, benefiting 175,478 NYCHA residents, as well as $555 million to repair 409 facades, according to a spokesperson for the de Blasio administration. Although the State has historically provided capital funds for NYCHA developments, in 2001, state contributions were reduced from $15 million to $6.4 million a year and dwindled completely by 2007, with the exception of a few one-time investments like $100 million for NYCHA (managed by Dorm Authority for the State of New York) for playgrounds and security cameras in 2015, and $200 million for boilers and elevators in 2017, according to city records.

However, infrastructure problems and public health crises persist throughout NYCHA, and since 2015, the IDC and Council Member Torres have been calling for the state to take more fiscal and regulatory responsibility for the city’s public housing system, a recommendation Governor Andrew Cuomo has in the past shrugged off, incorrectly characterizing the housing authority a “federal agency” and wrongly declaring state contributions as “unprecedented.”

Senator Klein’s state monitor bill unanimously passed the Senate on the final day of the 2017 legislative session, but has not been considered by the Assembly. Spokespersons for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the Assembly’s housing committee chair, Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.

Joining the calls for a state monitor amid the lead inspection fallout is not only Torres, but also Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who in a letter to Governor Cuomo, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the federal government has demonstrated itself to be an unreliable partner to the city.

“Only the state has the ability to appoint a credible monitor to examine NYCHA at this time,” Diaz Jr. said in a statement. “More than 400,000 New Yorkers call our city’s public housing developments their home. The families who call our city’s public housing developments home deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It is now plainly clear that a state-appointed monitor is the only way to make that happen.”

In response to the latest calls for significantly more state involvement in NYCHA, Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer said in a statement, “We have continuously expressed concerns with NYCHA’s operational failures and these latest allegations -- and potential legal violations -- that the agency knowingly committed by exposing New Yorkers to lead paint are particularly disturbing. We have received the letter, and we are reviewing it with our fellow state partners, the Attorney General and the State Comptroller.”

De Blasio, at a press conference last week, appeared resistant to the idea of increased state involvement, emphasizing that the pertinent authority over the city’s public housing system is HUD and stressing that a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York already identified NYCHA’s lead screening lapses in 2016 and that the city was taking steps to remedy it.

“The pertinent authority here is the federal government,” said de Blasio at a press conference on November 20. “I think it’s important that agencies respect their fellow agencies. So, this is the top level of government that is the funder of a lot of NYCHA’s operations and has legal oversight responsibility. And for two years, they’ve been involved in this issue. I think that should be respected.”

While de Blasio acknowledged that the federal investigation into NYCHA is ongoing and that the city is continuing to cooperate, he said it could lead to a federal monitor of the housing authority, similar to those in place at the NYPD and Department of Correction. Instead of a state or independent monitor at this time, NYCHA is creating an Executive Compliance Department, with Chief Compliance Officer Edna Wells Handy at its head. Handy has been counsel to the NYPD commissioner. The mayor has also rebuffed calls from Public Advocate Tish James to fire Olatoye, defending his public housing chief, saying that she has been instrumental in turning the authority around.

“I’m convinced that the leadership we have now is part of the solution to the problems that plague NYCHA,” de Blasio said at the November 20 press conference. De Blasio also referenced the personnel changes beneath Olatoye, though those were only made once the lead inspection scandal had become public through the Department of Investigation, not soon after Olatoye and de Blasio first learned of the inspection lapses.

Critics say steps taken by the de Blasio administration are insufficient. "Calling these changes ‘sweeping’ hardly makes them so. ‎An internal compliance department is no substitute for an independent monitor. NYCHA's failure to recognize the need for third-party accountability will only deepen the damage to its credibility," said Council Member Torres.

A spokesperson for the DOI, reiterated its call for the external NYCHA monitor to be housed at the independent city agency, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. The spokesperson noted that DOI already has a “robust integrity monitor program” with 18 active monitorships “overseeing an array of integrity issues that include construction, city-funded not for profits, and information technology.”

Professor Bloom said he is not surprised there is little enthusiasm from Cuomo’s office for the state to get involved.

“The underlying problem is NYCHA residents don’t vote at very high levels -- New York City residents don’t vote -- and upstate, public housing is not a priority. It’s a very small program upstate. [It’s a question of whether] there is the political will,” said Bloom.

According to Bloom, the calls for external monitors may be beside the point. While the creation of additional compliance entities may produce more reports (and bureaucracy), without a significant investment of funds to address the lead problem at its root cause, these steps are unlikely to improve quality of life for NYCHA residents. Currently federal regulations require that NYCHA inspect all 55,000 apartments with presumed lead paint, and NYCHA must prioritize apartments with children under six-years-old listed as residents. The city insists that the number of affected apartments is low; that between 2010 and 2016 there were only 17 documented cases requiring lead abatement at 18 NYCHA apartments where children with elevated blood lead levels live. Four of these cases occurring after 2014, according to de Blasio’s office, but a WNYC report suggests that these numbers may be skewed, since the city defines "elevated lead levels" at 10 micrograms per deciliter -- double the U.S Center for Disease Control standard since 2012.

“If you really want to make NYCHA lead-free -- and the case could be made that there should be no lead in any of these apartments -- well, that will require a much more extensive cleaning that will cost a lot of money,” Bloom said. A state-run and financed “lead abatement program” for NYCHA, for example, would likely be welcomed by the housing authority, Bloom added.

Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio said that two rounds of inspections and amelioration were already underway has vowed that NYCHA would soon been in compliance. On Monday, The Daily News reported that NYCHA residents had been notified that inspectors would force entry into units, removing and replacing door locks if tenants were not home during a designated time window.

“We will be in compliance with Local Law One next month and then we intend to stay in compliance with Local Law One every year thereafter,” de Blasio said at the November 20 press conference. “And that is important because what that means essentially is as soon as inspections and amelioration ends for one year, you start essentially immediately thereafter for the next year. So there will be a continuous inspection cycle from this point on. Any resources that NYCHA needs for that effort will be provided.”

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight? Mon, 27 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio's Record on NYCHA http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7299:de-blasio-s-record-on-nycha http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7299:de-blasio-s-record-on-nycha de Blasio NYCHA Olatoye

De Blasio, Olatoye & others in 2015 (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


This article is part of a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. Find all pieces of the series here.

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Despite steadily shrinking federal support for public housing, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has made significant gains in public safety and in balancing its annual operating budget under Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is up for reelection on Tuesday. His support for NYCHA, where about half a million low-income New Yorkers live, has set him apart from his predecessors, Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani, neither of whom matched de Blasio’s financial and programmatic commitment to the city’s public housing authority and residents, according to documents and experts.

Early in his tenure, de Blasio and Shola Olatoye, the chair and CEO of NYCHA appointed by the new mayor in 2014, unveiled a major overhaul plan to help stabilize and modernize public housing in New York City. At the time, the authority was on the edge of a fiscal cliff, with billions in unmet capital needs and yearly deficits in operating expenses, with residents often living in substandard and inhumane conditions. The plan, which has shown success over three-plus years, has not been without its critics.

Despite signs of further improvement down the road, NYCHA continues to have major problems, including too many units still in disrepair, and there has been vocal pushback from residents concerning the administration’s willingness to lease NYCHA land to private developers. This is part of the “infill” program for underutilized property, wherein the city and its partners will construct mostly affordable housing, while raising additional revenue to benefit the public housing system.

Furthermore, some public housing advocates say that, while de Blasio’s additional financial support has been welcome, only a truly proportional dedication of resources will transform the city’s public housing into a state of good repair.

During this mayoral campaign, there has been little discussion of NYCHA, including of de Blasio’s record in attempting to improve conditions, services, and finances at its 328 developments around the five boroughs. Given both the acute needs and the administration’s attempts to address them, more scrutiny is necessary.

De Blasio’s First Steps
As a candidate in 2013, de Blasio diagnosed the crumbling public housing conditions and negative balance sheet as a management problem, vowing to replace NYCHA Chair John Rhea if elected. The mayor, then public advocate, also repeatedly criticized Mayor Bloomberg’s land lease program plan, which would lease public land to private developers and require that 20 percent of developments be dedicated to affordable housing. Like other de Blasio critiques of Bloomberg, he felt that Bloomberg was being too generous to wealthy real estate barons and not demanding enough benefit for communities.

De Blasio promised to emphasize health and safety repairs within the authority by eliminating NYCHA’s maintenance backlog and hiring a dedicated workforce able to perform substantive reforms, according to his One New York, Rising Together campaign booklet. He also promised to dedicate a portion of vacant NYCHA apartments to homeless families.

Upon taking office, de Blasio’s administration inherited a public housing emergency. With an annual operating deficit of $77 million and a roughly $17 billion capital need for infrastructure repairs, NYCHA had been depleted by 2014 through years of federal, state, and city disinvestment, all while its capital needs and operating costs continued to rise. The nation’s largest public housing authority -- including its hundreds of thousands of residents -- was in crisis.

“Half of our buildings were 60 years of age or older. We were facing a $17 billion capital deficit,” said Karina Totah, NYCHA Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “We had operating deficits for several years and a large vulnerable population of both seniors and young people.”

The agency also faced higher crime rates than surrounding areas, gaps in community programming, and accusations of financial mismanagement, not only in annual budgets, but in daily operations. For example, a 2012 Daily News report uncovered nearly $1 billion in unspent federal funds intended for repairs to the public housing stock. Reports in that vein, often in the Daily News, would continue into de Blasio’s term.

In addition, soon after taking his new office in 2014, Comptroller Scott Stringer released a series of audits and reports detailing unsatisfactory living conditions and poor financial management within NYCHA. This documentation helped put de Blasio on the spot to more fully address problems at the authority, and quickly.

Additional reports found that NYCHA kept apartments off rent rolls for an average of seven years while doing major repairs and that the authority drastically under-reported repair backlogs for the sake of record keeping.

De Blasio issued several immediate fixes before unveiling a major, sweeping plan. The mayor relieved the authority of its annual policing fees (roughly $52 million that the city had previously insisted NYCHA pay to the NYPD), began security camera installation at several housing developments, and allocated $101 million towards reducing crime in public housing developments. This announcement was quickly followed by the launch of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety, a program designed to reduce violence in 15 NYCHA developments with high crime rates.

In February 2014, de Blasio also appointed Olatoye, former Vice President for Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit organization that finances and advocates for affordable housing, to lead NYCHA.

A year later, de Blasio and Olatoye released NextGeneration NYCHA, an ambitious, 10-year strategic plan designed to pull the authority out of debt and to address long unmet capital needs, while also enhancing quality of life for NYCHA residents. “The plan will save over ten years $4.6 billion in capital needs,” de Blasio said during the plan’s unveiling, “And on the expense side of the NYCHA budget, in the course of this plan we will generate a surplus of $230 million over the next decade.”

The authority’s operating budget achieved a surplus in both 2015 and 2016 and has no recent update to the 2011 estimate of $17 billion in unmet capital needs. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will cut a minimum of $35 million from the department’s budget this year, and potentially as much as $150 million, a possibly devastating loss for the authority.

NextGen NYCHA lays out guidelines for preserving public housing stock, presenting a land-lease program somewhat similar to Bloomberg’s, which has become the most controversial aspect of the turnaround effort. Other priorities in the plan include improving landlord services such as maintenance repairs and development safety, and engaging residents through job placement and broader social service resources.

An evaluation of de Blasio’s public housing record as he seeks a second term hinges on his administration’s execution of NextGen NYCHA.

Policing and Maintenance
Through the NextGen program and other initiatives, the de Blasio administration has sought to reduce crime, improve maintenance response, and increase energy efficiency within developments.

Crime within NYCHA developments became a focal point during de Blasio’s early tenure as city data showed increases in crime rates, up 31 percent in the first six months of the mayor’s term. In response to the upward trend, the Mayor and NYPD implemented the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety. Introduced in July 2014 and separate from the NextGen program, the plan provided additional safety measures in 15 of the authority’s highest crime developments. The program installed security infrastructure, provided broader access to employment programs and community centers, and has sought to strengthen communication between residents and police.

The program has been effective to a degree in reversing the upward trend of public housing crime rates. Violent crime within the 15 targeted developments decreased by 11.2 percent between 2014 and 2015, the program’s first year, according to a preliminary management report from the mayor’s office.

Developments have seen improvement over time, according to some NYCHA residents.

“The indication that things had begun to change was that we stopped hearing gunshots and I think in the last quarter there had been no gunshots reported in almost eight months,” said Geraldine Lamb, Castle Hill Residents Association President, in an interview in late October at the Bronx development.

While its first year was largely successful, bringing crime rates among the targeted developments to par with the rates of other developments, its achievements in 2016 were far more incremental according to a study from the Manhattan Institute. Overall crime rates continued to climb among non-MAP NYCHA developments while MAP locations’ rates stagnated. Meanwhile the number of violent crimes committed within MAP locations rose.

“At the time that MAP was rolled out with the combined package there was a dip in crime that then petered out,” said Alex Armlovich, author of the study. Armlovich expressed support for the city’s rollout of MAP-tested safety features in other developments despite these mixed results.

Lamb, of Castle Hill, expressed particular support for the community policing initiative, which recruits officers who have lived in public housing themselves or who have family members living in public housing. “They know what they’re dealing with and the people that live in public housing,” said Lamb. “And it’s working.”

Additional safety measures include the removal of sidewalk scaffolding and the installation of security cameras and lighting. The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice conducted a study of the effect of light on crime in which 40 public housing developments received 400 exterior lights, the results of the study are set to be released later in the year. The mayor also announced the removal of eight miles of sidewalk shedding as part of ongoing safety efforts, in a July 2015 press conference. As of June 2017, the de Blasio administration had announced the installation of new security cameras at 22 developments and the upgrade of 38 existing camera sets.

NYCHA has long faced accusations of neglect over buildings in disrepair, conditions de Blasio condemned after spending a night in public housing with other Democratic primary candidates during the 2013 race. In the NextGeneration plan, de Blasio committed to faster repairs and more transparent metrics.

“Our goal, starting with a set of developments over the next year and then expanding out throughout all the developments of the housing authority, is to set a one-week timeline for basic, straightforward repairs,” said de Blasio at a press conference announcing the program in May 2015.

As of September 2017, the average wait time for basic maintenance repairs is four days according to NYCHA Metrics. A report from Comptroller Stringer revealed the unreliability of reported repair times in 2014, but found that 81.7 percent of repairs met the stated goal of a 7 day timeline for simple repairs. Still, the problems are staggering -- some larger housing developments have upwards of 2,500 open work orders.

These problems persist despite the introduction of the FlexOps program, designed to provide better repair service through flexible and staggered maintenance shifts, as well as the MyNYCHA app, which had saved the city $960,000, according to the NextGeneration two-year progress report, released May 2017. Part of NYCHA’s challenge has been adjusting work hours for its union labor force so that residents can have a better opportunity to be home to greet repair workers.

A comptroller report, examining maintenance and repairs from January 1, 2013 through July 31, 2014, unveiled a backlog of more than 50,000 repairs and a policy for “fixing” repairs for the purposes of record-keeping when residents weren’t home to allow maintenance into the room.

This practice of closing out repairs is still commonplace according to Lisa Kenner, Van Dyke Resident Association president. “Lately, I know people who said they were waiting for them and they never came, they closed the tickets out,” said Kenner, in an interview with the Gotham Gazette at the Brooklyn development.

“We’ve increased our efforts around quality assurance and quality control to make sure that we’re going in and checking on work orders that are complete to make sure that they are done and done well,” said Karina Totah, NYCHA Vice President for Strategic Initiatives. Totah pointed to positive progress in maintenance responses as a result of the MyNYCHA app and efforts to improve property management efficiency through programs including NextGeneration Operations, a subsection of NYCHA guidelines for improving landlord services.

Resident Lisa Kenner remains unhappy with the city’s approach. “If you have water leaks, they want to put bandaids on it,” said Kenner, who taught herself to wax and buff the floor of her own basement office, which doubles as a storage room for folding furniture and outdated computer monitors, she said. She doesn’t trust maintenance to take care of the room’s upkeep.

Financial Stability
Facing a dire financial situation, the authority under de Blasio first looked to overturn legacy costs weighing down the budget. The largest among these were annual policing payments to the NYPD and PILOT fees, annual payments which take the place of property taxes for NYCHA. De Blasio removed NYPD payments from NYCHA’s budget in the earlier tenure and relieved the Authority of PILOT payments under the NextGeneration plan. These fees amounted to $70 million and $30 million respectively, according to a report from the mayor’s office.

Beyond these quick but significant relief measures, the NextGen plan prescribed more efficient rental and fee collection (low rates of rent and fee collection have been perpetual NYCHA challenges), advocated to maximize use of ground floor spaces and a consolidated central office workforce.

Efforts by new leadership showed some quick progress -- in both 2015 and 2016, NYCHA operated at a narrow surplus. Yet, a recent report from the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) attributed this to changes in federal rent structure, increased federal operating subsidies, and increased city subsidies and support. “There really are a combination of factors that drove NYCHA’s financial improvement, NextGen NYCHA is a portion of that. It’s smaller than the effect of general changes and also actions taken by the city,” said Sean Campion, author of the CBC report, in an interview.

Revenue from rental collection also grew between 2015 and 2016, resulting in a collection of $5 million above the expected revenue according to the adopted budget for fiscal year 2017.

However, this growth is again largely due to a 2014 change in federal rent structures, requiring residents who choose to pay “flat rents” (rather than income-based rents) to cover 80 percent of the apartment’s fair market rent. Despite city efforts to improve collections, the monthly rent collection rate has decreased almost every month since September 2016, according to NYCHA Metrics.

According to NYCHA’s Final Agency Plan for Fiscal Year 2018, the current fiscal year, it has been successful thus far in maximizing the revenue and uses of ground floor spaces, generating $860,000 in new revenue from 19 new and 33 renewed leases for retail and professional uses.

There are still avenues for continued savings that the authority has yet to pursue. “On the expense side, their biggest piece of it is that their operating expenses on a per unit basis are relatively high and particularly when you compare them to privately managed rental buildings,” said Campion of CBC. In addition, despite repeated proposals for raising parking fees to the market rate, the city has thus far been unable to follow through, though Olatoye, the NYCHA CEO, has said that parking-related reforms are coming.

Looming over this recent progress are real and proposed federal cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. If proposals are approved, years of financial progress could be wiped out. “These cuts to HUD would strip nearly every dollar from public housing infrastructure and threaten our day-to-day operations,” Olatoye said in statement in May on the federal budget proposal.

Reforming Resident Services
While most landlords limit themselves to maintaining buildings and collecting rent, NYCHA sees itself, ultimately, as a social safety net. The average NYCHA resident remains in public housing for 22 years and makes $22,300 per year. On NYCHA’s website, the authority states that its mission “is to increase opportunities for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers.”  This involves facilitating access to ancillary services, like community and senior centers, job training and placement, and broadband internet.

NYCHA receives no direct funding from the federal government to support local community programming. Instead, the agency uses funds from its operational budget to cover costs. With NYCHA as cash-strapped as it is, the NextGen plan includes outsourcing services provided by the agency, to nonprofits and other city agencies.

Part of this initiative involved transferring the management of 24 community centers and 17 senior centers to the Department of Youth and Community Development and the Department for the Aging.

Some residents were unhappy with the change. ”When they let that DYCD come in and take over the community center, it sucks!” said Lisa Kenner, president of the Van Dyke Houses Tenant Association. She complained that DYCD raised the daily fee for renting community center space, making it inaccessible to residents who need affordable areas to host parties, get-togethers, and other community events.

In addition to relying on outside parties to finance and run services previously done by NYCHA, the housing authority decided to create a 501c(3) nonprofit to leverage donations from private donors that could be used for community development and to engage in new public-private partnerships. The Fund for Public Housing announced in 2016 an ambitious goal of raising $200 million within its first three years.

More than a year-and-a-half later, the Fund had raised only a small portion of that, $1.5 million, as of this August, according to Olatoye, on a recent episode of What’s the [Data] Point?, a podcast by Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission. The nonprofit is forging ahead, though, and has partnered with donors on writing design guidelines for NYCHA buildings, constructing new playgrounds, and increasing resident access to free tax preparation programs. NYCHA and Fund for Public Housing leaders are encouraged, though, and hopeful that the Fund will continue to make steady progress and evenutally lure some major donors.

NextGen NYCHA also included a goal to increase job placements for residents to 4,000 annually by 2025. Before 2015, NYCHA had been placing approximately 2,000 residents each year in new jobs, according to NextGen.

Sideya Sherman, Executive Vice President for Community Engagement and Partnerships at NYCHA, explained that the NextGen approach involves connecting with approximately 60 outside job placement providers, administering their own training programs with grant funding, and expanding JobsPlus, a federal program.

“A really important piece of our strategy is not only connecting residents to external services, but attracting resources and services to NYCHA communities and on campus,” she said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. Between May 2015 and May 2017, NYCHA had found employment for 5,663 residents, an average of 2,832 residents per year.

Preserving Existing Housing Stock
As owner and manager of more than 320 developments, NYCHA is tasked with the preservation of almost 2,500 buildings. The authority, however, still faces the projected $17 billion bill for repairs across all properties (known as its “capital” needs, for things like roofs, boilers, and more).

As opposed to previous administrations, de Blasio has made significant financial commitments to public housing in New York City. In 2015, he committed $300 million over three years for roof repair across in-need NYCHA properties. In 2017, he committed another $1 billion over ten years for roofs.

“Years of federal and state disinvestment have led to deteriorating buildings, depriving tenants of the level of housing they deserve,” de Blasio said in a 2015 press release. “By making these critical investments in our aging NYCHA buildings, we are both protecting our residents – many of whom are children – and saving money spent on repairing these buildings.”

Notwithstanding the mayor’s financial commitment, the implementation of roof repairs across NYCHA properties has been uneven. In a June 2017 audit, Comptroller Stringer found that many NYCHA construction projects between January 2013 and November 2015 were ineffectively monitored. For example, NYCHA reported that an effort to repair roofs at the Lafayette Houses in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn was successful, despite no records of the agency inspecting the property. This construction project was funded using some of the first $300 million pledged by the mayor earlier that year. Efforts in 2016 and 2017 have yet to be examined in detail.

De Blasio’s financial pledges to NYCHA occurred amid creative efforts by NYCHA to leverage private funds to repair and renovate its properties. The agency aimed to enroll a substantial portion of its developments into the recently established federal program entitled RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration). NYCHA has already run a sizeable Section 8 voucher program, which is funded through federal dollars. Expanding that and adding the RAD program have let private developers and management companies invest capital in NYCHA developments, with NYCHA maintaining ultimate ownership of all NYCHA properties.

The results have been encouraging to some. Using federal relief funds from Hurricane Sandy, tax credits, state bonds, and private equity, NYCHA was able to refurbish 1,395 apartments, raise 24 boiler rooms to roof level to avoid future floods, and construct floodwalls to protect against future storms at the Ocean Bay development in Far Rockaway.

At least one resident of Ocean Bay is happy with the changes. Rita Joseph used to be “embarrassed” to show people her apartment, according to an article in New York Magazine. Now, she confidently strolls through her building’s spotless lobby.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the NextGen NYCHA plan has been the “infill” projects, or the leasing of NYCHA land to private developers, to raise money for repairs while helping the mayor meet his goal of creating and preserving 300,000 affordable housing units by 2026.

The infill projects called for in the NextGen plan consist of two types: 100% affordable housing and 50/50 developments, where half the units are market-rate and half have affordability caps on the rent. As of now, there are nine scheduled 100% affordable projects and four 50/50 projects in the works.

Susan J. Popkin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that NYCHA’s infill strategy is unique compared to other American housing authorities. The viability for NYCHA boils down to the inflated cost of real estate in New York City, something other authorities do not have at their disposal.

Critics say that these projects are lagging behind or that they are inappropriate altogether, and a dangerous step toward privatization.

On the other hand, The Daily News recently published an editorial criticizing NYCHA for its slow place in putting these developments into practice.

NYCHA, however, says its advances are encouraging. “We are really happy with our progress. I don’t think we would say we would be behind,” said Ilana Maier, Deputy Communications Officer at NYCHA.

Some residents at developments targeted for these structure are unsatisfied, though critics don’t provide viable alternatives that can help NYCHA bring in new revenue to dig itself out of a hole with which the state and federal governments do not seem concerned.

In reference to the proposed 50/50 project at Holmes Towers, Alicia Harris, a resident of the Upper East development, said to DNAinfo, "When you talk about 45 stories, where are the kids gonna play? It will take away space for the kids."

Charlene Nimmons, president of the Wyckoff Gardens Tenants Association from 2003 to 2015, echoed Harris’ dissatisfaction in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “You’re pushing it down our throats,” she said in response to the proposed plan to build a 50/50 building on two parking lots in the Wyckoff Gardens development.

And Lisa Kenner, president of the Van Dyke Houses Tenants Association, criticized the two proposed 100% affordable housing projects on her development’s land. “They just want to sell stuff, instead of sitting down and looking at it.”

Moving Forward with Fingers Crossed
Despite criticism of NYCHA’s infill development, ongoing problems with day-to-day management, and the huge capital need, experts have been impressed with de Blasio’s increased commitment and strategic approach to public housing. Handed an almost impossible situation—given the lack of federal funding and conditions at NYCHA—his administration has made progress in making the authority financially solvent, at least operationally, with some hope for the future.

“Given the funding constraints, they are doing the best they can,” said Popkin of the Urban Institute.

Others have also lauded the administration’s engagement with public housing residents, as opposed to his predecessors. “He has made it a point to visit public housing,” said Nicholas Bloom, Associate Professor at the New York Institute of Technology and a NYCHA scholar, to Gotham Gazette. “His office has been engaged.”

And some NYCHA residents, while acknowledging the limitations on the mayor, have been generally positive. “I believe that he has kept his promises to the best of his ability because he has a City Council to deal with and all of the state elected officials to deal with, including the governor,” said Geraldine Lamb, president of the Castle Hill Residents Association.

However, praise for NYCHA’s progress comes with caveats. Despite de Blasio’s financial commitments, public housing advocates demand greater city investment. “That kind of financial commitment has not been made by his office,” explained Bloom, referring to the type of dedication of funds toward NYCHA that would really shock the system.

Because NYCHA is technically a state authority and not historically funded by the city, the agency receives scraps from the city budget, rather than a significant allocation of resources. As part of NYCHA’s $3.26 billion operating budget for 2017, $1.9 billion is provided by the federal government, $1 billion from tenant rental revenue, and another $200 million from New York State, according to a report on NYCHA’s finances issued by the City Council; while $81.9 million comes from the city government, just 2.5% of NYCHA’s total 2017 budget. That’s why Bloom recommends that the state government should “turn NYCHA into a city agency,” to incentivize the city to better allocate funds for the struggling housing authority.

Short of that, the city is moving forward with its plans, and hoping for good news from Washington, D.C. and Albany. “NextGen NYCHA is a pretty ambitious plan,” said Sean Campion of Citizens Budget Commission, “and they’re making relatively good progress towards it in a really difficult political environment.”

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This article is part of a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. Find all pieces of the series here.

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by Grace Dixon and Ben Weiss
@GothamGazette

Note - this article has been updated. 

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De Blasio's Record on NYCHA Sun, 05 Nov 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Nonprofit Supporting NYCHA Adds to Early Fundraising & Programs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7160:nonprofit-supporting-nycha-adds-to-early-fundraising-programs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7160:nonprofit-supporting-nycha-adds-to-early-fundraising-programs NYCHA Fund for Public Housing

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

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Nonprofit Supporting NYCHA Adds to Early Fundraising & Programs Mon, 28 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
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.

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by Libby Wetzler, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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

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

NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye (photo: Buck Ennis)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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

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


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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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NYCHA's 'Core Challenge' Thu, 12 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000