Gotham Gazette

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A True, New NYCHA Development Plan

NYCHA Chair Olatoye

NYCHA Chair Olatoye, the author, at a NextGen meeting (via NYCHA on flickr)

Public housing has been an integral feature of New York City life since Fiorello La Guardia opened the doors of First Houses eighty years ago, and roughly five percent of the city's population lives in public housing today. As a landlord, NYCHA manages buildings, but our real service is to people— the 615,000 residents who live in our developments and our Section 8 voucher holders.

We are doing everything we can to ensure the long-term survival and health of public housing in New York City. This includes new, creative solutions to major challenges.

We face immense financial obstacles as NYCHA struggles to repair and maintain our buildings and grounds. We can no longer delay making difficult, critical choices about how we operate, how we are financed, and how we rebuild and rehabilitate our 328 developments. To avoid the fate of other housing authorities across the country, NYCHA must find innovative solutions to maintain and improve our properties.

Due in part to federal and state disinvestment, the city is investing more than ever to craft solutions that bring about real change. We are doing this because we recognize the simple truth that we have an ethical responsibility to provide and sustain affordable housing for our city's low-income populations.

Today, just 18 percent of the land on NYCHA's 328 developments is used to house residents. Using some of that land to develop new mixed-income housing can generate significant funds benefiting local and citywide NYCHA residents, as well as those in the surrounding community. We call these developments NextGen Neighborhoods because they provide the funding we need to create the safe, clean, connected communities that we envision in our ten-year strategic plan, NextGeneration NYCHA.

This isn't the first time NYCHA has proposed developing market-rate housing on our properties, but it is the first time resident engagement has been made integral to the process. And the first time an administration has pledged to ensure that just as many units of affordable housing are built as market rate housing.

This 50/50 model will ensure a significant percentage of the proceeds from the affordable and market-rate buildings will be provided to each development for residents to invest back into building new kitchens, fixing the root causes of leakage, and other priorities. The remaining funds will be funneled by NYCHA into making improvements across NYCHA's portfolio.

Our strategic plan aims to preserve this precious resource of public housing for the next generation of New Yorkers. NextGen Neighborhoods is just one of the fifteen initiatives we outlined in the plan to rebuild and repair our properties and sustain NYCHA for the long term.

[Related: Another Way of Looking at NYCHA Infill Development]

The funds we generate through NextGen Neighborhoods will be added to those generated from other strategies— such as our parking initiative, our commercial initiative, and our preservation initiative. None of these strategies work in a vacuum, they all work together as a comprehensive plan to get NYCHA's financial health in order, create more affordable housing, and invest in the Housing Authority and in the future of our city.

I've been clear that upon moving into this position, Mayor de Blasio charged me with the task of resetting the Authority's relationship with residents. We cannot do business as usual with our city's public housing, and expect to see substantive and lasting change.

Our new plan is not the infill proposal put forth by the previous administration— this is NYCHA working together with residents, with community members and advocates, and with elected officials to support the creation of mixed-income affordable housing on NYCHA property.

This is not privatization, but aggressive preservation— a strategy that is smart for residents and surrounding communities as well as NYCHA. We can generate money to repair and upgrade our developments while adding to the city's affordable housing stock, attracting new stores and services to neighborhoods, and producing income that can help NYCHA residents in other parts of New York. NYCHA will not compromise the rights of public housing tenants, unfairly evict tenants, or convert public housing units to market rate housing. We're in the business of housing people.

This is NYCHA moving forward, instead of maintaining the status quo. There is no better way to serve our residents.

Shola Olatoye is Chair of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), landlord to over 600,000 residents of traditional public housing and Section 8 programs. She is on Twitter at @SholaOlatoye.

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