Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/643 Thu, 03 Dec 2020 14:43:33 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) As New NYCHA Chair Takes Over, the Future of Public Housing Hangs in the Balance https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8739-new-nycha-chair-russ-future-of-public-housing-nycha https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8739-new-nycha-chair-russ-future-of-public-housing-nycha new nycha chair

Chair Gregory Russ visiting a NYCHA complex (photo: @NYCHA)


“These first few months of our work have revealed NYCHA as an organization fraught with serious problems in structure, culture, and direction, and perhaps even worse,” wrote Bart Schwartz, the new federal monitor of the city’s public housing authority, in his first progress report, released July 22.

Three weeks later, this past Monday, Gregory Russ arrived in Manhattan for his first day of work as NYCHA’s new Chair and CEO, with an enormous task in front of him.

NYCHA’s short- and long-term futures have been complicated for some time. It’s the largest public housing authority in the country, with more than 400,000 residents, struggles to break even with annual operating expenses, is tens of billions of dollars behind in infrastructure spending for a state of good repair, and plagued by lead paint, mold, broken heating systems and elevators, and other calamities.

Until Russ, NYCHA hadn’t had a permanent leader in 16 months, during which time Schwartz was named federal monitor through a January 31 agreement among Mayor Bill de Blasio, federal housing Secretary Ben Carson, federal prosecutors, and a judge.

While de Blasio has taken more ownership of and put more resources into NYCHA than his recent predecessors, crises at the sprawling, 316-development, 176,000-unit public housing authority have spiraled. Federal and state help has been limited, and, in combination with what the city is doing, is nowhere near meeting the need.

Recognition has set in more recently that drastic measures are needed, though it is unclear where all of the more than $30 billion estimated need to get NYCHA apartments and complexes into a state of good repair will come from.

Russ takes over as the latest in several major changes and announcements toward a better future for NYCHA and its residents, but also amid a great deal of uncertainty and a constant drumbeat of headlines about waste, mismanagement, inefficiency, and need. His hiring comes after a lead paint scandal broke and multiple announcements by the de Blasio administration and NYCHA about plans to deal with it; the release of the “NYCHA 2.0” plan by de Blasio that calls for fairly aggressive steps like “infill” private housing development to raise needed capital revenue for the crumbling housing authority; the near-receivership deal with the Department of Housing and Urban Developmentin New York; and Schwartz’s appointment.

Russ, formerly head of the public housing authorities in several cities, including most recently Minneapolis, is now undertaking what is likely his biggest professional challenge.

“It’s probably one of the most difficult jobs in public administration in New York City and maybe even the country,” said Nicholas Dagen Bloom, professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College and a NYCHA scholar.

The goals, mandates, and timelines already in place as Russ begins his work form a somewhat confusing mix, all layered on top of the desperate need, with many thousands of tenants living in squalor and far too many units on the verge of being uninhabitable.

The combination of reforms the city has made with NYCHA over the last several years; NYCHA 2.0; other promises by the mayor and his appointees; federal requirements; and Schwartz’s recently-begun work form the basis of what Russ has to work with.

In an online message posted on NYCHA’s website, Russ promised “real and substantial changes” in order to turn the page at the housing authority.

“My mission is simple: fix residents’ homes today and make NYCHA stronger for the coming generations,” Russ wrote. “One of my top priorities is to meet with NYCHA residents and staff across the city to hear about how we can best work together to make progress,” he wrote.

As Russ starts his tenure, he and Schwartz appear to be conducting similar fact-finding and get-to-know-you endeavors, with questions looming about how well they will work together, along with HUD officials and others, to bring relief to NYCHA tenants and repair the nation’s largest public housing stock for adequate and comfortable future use by hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.

The HUD Agreement
Federal Monitor Bart Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor and currently chair of investigations firm Guidepost Solutions, was named monitor on March 1. He will be overseeing NYCHA’s progress towards deadlines laid out in an agreement with HUD, federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York, NYCHA, and the de Blasio administration announced January 31.

Schwartz, whose still-unknown budget (reportedly he submitted an initial $20 million bill) will be paid by the city, is required to release essentially a public progress report on NYCHA’s compliance with the agreement each quarter, the first of which was released July 22. That report, which laid out the extent to which NYCHA is following the agreement particularly with regard to lead, mold, and elevator inspections, is highly critical of NYCHA, pointing to limits of its progress, describing “cascading putrid liquid” in one development, insufficient plans, and “daunting” deadlines.

“He is there to hold us to account,” then-NYCHA Interim Chair Kathryn Garcia said in a May 7 City Council hearing. The implementation of a federal monitor was widely welcomed by critics of NYCHA. Russ will have to establish a positive working relationship with the the monitor, a position which will be filled for at least five years and currently held by Schwartz.

Garcia and Schwartz butted heads over the progress of arguably the biggest focus of NYCHA, SDNY, and HUD’s agreement: the testing for and abatement of lead in NYCHA’s public housing stock.

In a pointed memo, Schwartz criticized Garcia’s testimony to the City Council’s Committee on Public Housing in the May 7 hearing, saying it “omitted material details about lead paint issues that are required to be addressed now and in the future by the NYCHA, and thereby may have resulted in a misleading impression being given to City Council members and the public about how these issues are being addressed.”

Per the agreement, NYCHA is required to test for lead paint in all NYCHA units built before 1978 (the year lead paint was made illegal) and all units NYCHA believes are occupied or routinely visited by children under six years old, who are the most vulnerable to lead paint poisoning and its effects on development. NYCHA plans to test 135,000 units with x-ray technology called XRF testing by the end of 2020.

During a press conference announcing the testing on the day it began, April 15, de Blasio said, “for the first time ever, we’re going into 135,000 NYCHA apartments to eradicate lead exposure. This aggressive new testing plan will help make New York the healthiest and fairest big city in America.”

It appears the authority is already behind.

The $88 million initiative is supposed to inspect 5,000 to 7,000 units a month. In total in the first three months of the initiative -- per data released August 8th -- only 9,475 units were tested, which is 7% of the total goal. At that rate, at the end of 2020 NYCHA will have tested roughly 47,000 apartments, 35% of the goal.

Of the 4,645 test results received from those inspections, 3,494 came back positive.

According to Schwartz’s report, “we note that our interviews have indicated that NYCHA lacks a comprehensive strategic policy to address the many issues surrounding lead-based paint.”

Longer-term, NYCHA is required to abate all lead-based paint in 50% of apartment units that contain it and remove all lead paint in 20 years.

NYCHA is required per the agreement to release action plans for how to deal with lead, mold, heat and hot water, elevators, and pests and waste. The action plan for lead didn’t cut it, according to Schwartz: “NYCHA’s Certification and Corrective Action Plan is a frank admission of an unacceptable level of deficiencies, from the quality of the interim controls to the number of units that have not been cleared.”

Garcia, in a return memo to Monitor Schwartz, acknowledged the ambition of the deadlines and said full compliance should not be expected immediately.

The agreement also lays out ambitious deadlines for addressing heating improvements, mold removal, elevator outages, and rat and roach reduction.

Compliance with elevator deadlines -- by January 2022, 70% of buildings with more than one elevator can have at most one instance per year where both elevators are out of service -- doesn’t seem likely. “Even with a sufficient increase in funding,” according to Schwartz, “NYCHA cannot simply engage in a capital program of installing a large number of elevators in a short amount of time because there is currently no plan in place to address the global challenges of the elevator portfolio.”

By January 2021, 95% of the times residents submit a verified mold complaint, NYCHA must remove all visible mold in the unit within five business days.

By October 2024, no more than 15% of occupied units can have internal temperatures that fall below the legal limit-- during the day between October 1st and May 31st if outside temperature drops below 55 degrees, internal temperature must be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit and at least 62 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the night. NYCHA per the agreement will replace or address 500 boilers by 2026.

The rat and roach deadlines, like lead testing, have already proven controversial. The New York Daily News spoke with experts who said the pest control requirements -- NYCHA has three years to reduce the rat population by 50%, mouse population by 40%, and roach population by 40% -- are “nearly impossible to meet without an unlimited budget given the size of NYCHA…and the scope of New York City’s entrenched pest problems.”

During a March 11 oversight hearing, Garcia acknowledged pests are one area where the authority might need more time to develop a plan to meet the deadlines.

Possibly sensing the difficulties of the ambitious deadline, NYCHA announced in July a doubling the number of developments under de Blasio’s 2017 “Neighborhood Rat Reduction” initiative to decrease the rat population in the city. However, Schwartz doesn’t see this as the best tact, calling it “too narrowly implemented.”

“Certain NYCHA developments visited by the Monitor Team that are not located within one of the Mayor’s rat reduction zones have horrific pest infestation conditions (including rats). It is inadequate for NYCHA to largely bootstrap its rat reduction efforts to the Mayor’s rat reduction program. NYCHA’s rat reduction efforts must be more expansive across its entire portfolio in order to eradicate this problem.”

At this point in the Agreement, NYCHA is required to inspect the grounds and common areas every day for each of its buildings for trash and pests.

“Culture of Disengagement and Dysfunction”
Scrutiny of Russ has already begun, especially after the city missed two deadlines before naming him leader of the entity tasked with providing good housing and other services to an estimated 500,000 people in NYCHA public housing. Russ will reportedly earn a salary of just over $400,000, making him the highest paid city official in New York, and plans to regularly return to Minneapolis, where his family is remaining full-time, at least initially.

Along with the salary and travel, the choice of Russ was questioned given that in Minneapolis he managed a little more than 6,000 public housing units, compared to NYCHA’s roughly 175,000 units. However, the list of people with experience managing even close to the size of NYCHA’s portfolio is quite small.

As he attempts to save public housing in New York City, in part by meeting federal deadlines, Russ will have to significantly change NYCHA’s leadership and overall management culture, which have been heavily criticized for some time, especially over the last few years.

In a recent op-ed in Gotham Gazette, former commissioner of the city Department of Investigation Mark Peters and former first deputy commissioner of DOI Lesley Brovner wrote that the investigations into NYCHA that they oversaw revealed a “systemic culture of failing to take responsibility.”

Schwartz, in his initial report, wrote in regard to regional asset managers that NYCHA employs a strategy of “[moving] people around so that no one knows the history of the development in which they land and no one takes responsibility as they are new to the site.”

NYCHA’s leadership structure might be changing: Schwartz was required by the agreement to hire an outside consulting firm (he hired KPMG) to construct an organizational plan to “examine NYCHA’s systems, policies, procedures, and management and personnel structures, and make recommendations to the City, NYCHA, and the Monitor to improve the areas examined.”

The agreement required NYCHA to establish a Compliance Department, an Environmental Health and Safety Department, and a Quality Assurance Unit by mid-February. All three departments were created on time, but there were issues, according to Schwartz. The monitor is “concerned…about the effectiveness of these departments,” and even rejected two proposed heads, as they lacked “requisite qualifications and experience.”

In his online opening message, Russ said, “I’d like to remind staff that they should cooperate with the monitor’s team as we work together to achieve our shared goals. Because the wellbeing of our residents and employees is our primary focus, I’d also like to make clear that improper practices or conduct will not be tolerated at the Authority.”

NYCHA 2.0
Few if any of the requirements in the HUD deal or any of the many essential renovations at NYCHA complexes and apartments will be completed without significant financial investment. As of 2017, NYCHA projected that $32 billion is needed to properly fund the capital needs of its housing stock. Incoming Chair Russ has said it’s probably up to $45 billion now, but in his initial open letter to NYCHA employees, Russ wrote $32 billion.

“Without dramatic action, up to 90 percent of NYCHA’s 176,000 units of public housing could deteriorate to the point at which they are no longer cost-effective to repair by 2027,” according to Sean Campion, a researcher at the nonprofit Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), in testimony to the City Council’s Committee on Public Housing on November 15 of last year.

According to a CBC report, the average cost to repair a single NYCHA apartment is $181,000. If NYCHA apartments were to deteriorate at the same rate they have been, by 2027 90% of the authority’s housing stock could be designated as “very high cost” to repair, around $250,000- $300,000 each; and 8,000 units could need repairs exceeding the cost to replace the unit outright with brand new construction.

Running simultaneously with the changes spelled out by HUD, NYCHA will continue the roll out and implementation of NYCHA 2.0, first released by de Blasio and NYCHA officials in December, and its aggressive plan to resolve $24 billion in capital needs over 10 years.

NYCHA 2.0 accelerates the goals and initiatives of de Blasio’s previous plan, Next Generation NYCHA, raising questions about why the mayor and NYCHA leaders did not pursue a more assertive plan from the get-go when de Blasio took over City Hall and NYCHA in 2014. Next Generation NYCHA was released in May 2015.

The new plan has three tranches: One, converting public housing (Section 9 housing) into public-private partnerships (Section 8 housing) using the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) process, which allows for private management of NYCHA complexes and an influx of revenue to the authority for leasing such rights; Two, a significant “infill” program to allow leasing of NYCHA space for private housing development, some of which will be market-rate and some “affordable” rentals; And three, selling NYCHA air rights.

Using the PACT program -- the city name for RAD conversions -- NYCHA will essentially lease buildings and developments to private companies who will manage public housing, investing in the housing projects, collecting rent, and running the facilities. NYCHA plans to use this process for 62,000 units which would address around $12.8 billion in capital needs over 10 years, according to the plan. The agreement with HUD states HUD’s support for continuing the RAD program but not necessarily expanding it (HUD must approve all RAD conversions).

When asked about the biggest unknown for NYCHA, Professor Bloom said it is continuing these conversions at an increasing scale. A major upside of the RAD conversions is it transfers the responsibility and cost of the upkeep of the units to private companies (which are often free of the cumbersome labor union work rules that NYCHA leadership and others have found frustrating). The money NYCHA receives from the conversions goes directly towards repairs and renovations in the converted developments.

Chair Russ is a big proponent of RAD. In Minneapolis, he put every single public housing unit through RAD conversions and would surely welcome an even more ambitious goal than 62,000 RAD units in the city.

There have been nine PACT/RAD conversions, two of them recently announced in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Plus, the largest single-site RAD conversion, totalling $560 million in renovations (partly paid by FEMA funds for Superstorm Sandy recovery), at Ocean Side Apartments in Rockaway, Queens was unveiled in June.

According to Bloom, PACT conversions can be lucrative for private companies as well as NYCHA: “There’s some real upside to taking on a NYCHA project that most people don’t realize,” Bloom said. “Many have significant capital investment over the years, more than people realize, they’re solid buildings…they’re fully-tenanted, they come with Section 8 investment, which is a federal guarantee, they’re not required to pay normal city property taxes, they can borrow or develop vehicles to renovate the projects, and they’re also in pretty good locations.”

The second piece of NYCHA 2.0 is even more controversial than PACT/RAD conversions, which are themselves criticized by some as “privatization” of public housing.

Using infill development, what is considered “underutilized” land, often parking lots, in the often sprawling public housing projects, is leased to private developers to build housing. The housing that will come to given NYCHA complexes will vary in terms of the balance of market-rate and “affordable” units (typically the more market-rate the more revenue for NYCHA), with proceeds of the lease agreements going to NYCHA and investments in the developments home to the new infill housing.

In NYCHA 2.0, the city estimates $2 billion in revenue for NYCHA from infill development in around five initial developments. But, it is unclear if the city can meet the pace it expects given how controversial infill can be -- private developers were recently forced to restart the community engagement process of planned infill development at Holmes Towers on the Upper East Side. The proposal would have built a 50-story building on the site of a playground, with half the units market-rate rentals, more than some residents and local officials like Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Ben Kallos would have preferred.

“To get the type of money to basically build a new development that includes an affordable component and has the market-rate to fully renovate the nearby development,” says Bloom, “it has to be more market-rate. The residents and advocates don’t want that. That’s the challenge.”

When asked about infill development on the Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio, outgoing Chair Garcia said in late May, “we want to maximize the money that we can get in order to do what is a pretty massive capital need. That being said, I can completely understand why residents might be anxious.”

“We really don’t have a lot of other options in terms of the incredible need,” she continued, “and I think this is a way to take funding or value from campuses and do two things: make sure residents do well, and increase the supply of housing and affordable housing in the city which of course is always in dire need.”

If residents decide to back an infill development in their own backyard, 100% of the revenue from the project goes directly to that development. However, the more money for repairs means more market-rate apartments, which can be unpopular with residents who fear broader gentrification of their neighborhoods.

According to an October 2018 CBC report, “developers would pay 50 percent less for a project with a 20 percent affordability set aside and 86 percent less for a project with a 50 percent affordable set aside.”

“Stricter requirements to produce greater amounts of affordable housing make the land less valuable to developers, and hence, generate less revenue for NYCHA,” the report states.

Infill development can lead to innovative architecture, as development plans must navigate what can be tricky underutilized lots of land. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the American Institute of Architects New York launched an international competition to find architects to embrace the unique challenge of infill development. HPD may designate some or all of the five finalists, announced in May, to further develop their proposals into affordable housing projects.

The final part of the city’s 2.0 plan to fund NYCHA capital needs is selling air rights. NYCHA estimates it has 80 million square feet of unused air rights, some of which it will utilize to generate $1 billion in capital repair needs. During a December press conference announcing NYCHA 2.0, then-Deputy Mayor of Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen said the city is “conducting a more thorough analysis as to where there are available air rights and sites that can receive them.”

Campion, of Citizens Budget Commission, also recommends that the city should integrate NYCHA into its affordable housing plans, which could shift more money to NYCHA units by making it a more central part of the city’s larger affordable housing landscape and planning.

In a recent statement to Gotham Gazette, a spokesperson for NYCHA said, “NYCHA will continue to utilize all NYCHA 2.0 tools in order to secure the funding it needs to improve the quality of residents’ homes and preserve public housing for generations.”

There are several reasons why it’s so important to address NYCHA’s many needs and improve the standard of living across NYCHA developments, while recognizing the important roles NYCHA and its residents play in larger city society, according to the Regional Plan Association. NYCHA residents are vital to the New York City workforce: there are 30,000 NYCHA residents who work in the healthcare industry alone, RPA recently noted. Also, NYCHA provides almost half of all New York City senior centers, over 100 childcare facilities, and many parks and open recreational areas.

Other Funding
While NYCHA 2.0 sets ambitious targets for revenue toward the more than $30 billion in need, more is clearly needed, and major questions remain with regard to executing that plan, as well as other operational goals, management changes, and compliance with federal mandates. NYCHA needs to embark on major elements of 2.0 like infill development while also making basic repairs to individual apartments, replacing boilers and roofs, and much more.

Other outstanding questions include the levels of state and federal funding that NYCHA will receive. The federal government funds two-thirds of NYCHA’s annual operating budget according to Garcia, but that funding is tenuous. Meanwhile, chronic underfunding by the federal government has led to the seemingly insurmountable capital need, according to Professor Bloom.

Controversially, HUD promised no new funds in the agreement, which de Blasio defended by indicating that he had saved the city from entering receivership and pointing to the hostile general outlook from the Trump administration toward public housing. Outgoing interim NYCHA Chair Stanley Brezenoff criticized the deal -- and refused to sign it -- because it included no new federal financial support for NYCHA.

“You can’t starve the system then complain about signs of malnutrition,” said City Council Member Mark Treyger of Brooklyn in the March 11 oversight hearing, in regard to HUD’s funding to NYCHA.

Amid a reelection campaign, Governor Andrew Cuomo last year made a strong show of support for NYCHA, after mostly ignoring it previously. He saw to $250 million additional funds allocated toward NYCHA in 2018, beyond an already committed $300 million to the housing authority. He’s been highly critical of the ongoing lead paint saga, calling NYCHA “fundamentally dysfunctional.”

“This is supposed to be the progressive capital of the nation, New York City. Everybody likes to talk about how progressive they are, how liberal they are, well we’re saying walk the walk don’t talk the talk,” said Cuomo, a former HUD secretary, in a July 2018 press conference. “If you actually care then you step up and you do the right thing by NYCHA after so many years of neglect.”

Cuomo has withheld $450 million of committed state investment, saying he does not trust the money would be spent properly, though it is set to be spent through the state Dormitory Authority working with NYCHA.

“Delivering money to NYCHA is like throwing it out the window,” Cuomo said in April 2018, when he threatened to appoint a state monitor for NYCHA, later opting not to based on federal involvement.

THE CITY reported in April that Cuomo was on the verge of releasing the money for elevator and boiler repairs, but he still does not appear to have done so. The de Blasio administration has agreed to put $2.2 billion in capital expenses towards NYCHA.

Federal, state, and city officials and activists have criticized de Blasio for the multitude of problems that have occurred under his administration, despite the attention and funding he’s provided NYCHA. Some say he waited too long to begin utilizing RAD conversions, and others have questioned his oversight duties in regards to the lead paint scandal, among other problems like heat and hot water outages.

Both de Blasio and Cuomo agree that more federal money is needed, yet the recent HUD agreement provides no new federal financial commitment.

“We need to make sure we are advocating for additional state funds and additional federal funds,” Garcia said in the Council hearing, a sentiment de Blasio has echoed many times.

“The last 10 years have definitely been much more volatile” for NYCHA, Bloom said. “What’s the difference? The difference is money. When, after 2000, when NYCHA’s financial situation vis-à-vis the federal funds declined, and the city cut its funding, NYCHA became more volatile. The other fact is, they’ve also entered into a cycle where some of their buildings are old…[R]ight when you need the money most is when you’re not getting it because of cuts in federal support.”

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by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

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As New NYCHA Chair Takes Over, the Future of Public Housing Hangs in the Balance Thu, 15 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? $31.8 billion in NYCHA need, with Sean Campion https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7814-what-s-the-data-point-31-8-billion-in-nycha-need-with-sean-campion https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7814-what-s-the-data-point-31-8-billion-in-nycha-need-with-sean-campion whats the data point


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

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? $31.8 billion in NYCHA need, with Sean Campion Thu, 19 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Shola Olatoye Did a Lot of Good for NYCHA https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7626-a-fair-look-at-shola-olatoye-s-nycha-tenure https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7626-a-fair-look-at-shola-olatoye-s-nycha-tenure NYCHA Olatoye

Outgoing NYCHA Chair Olatoye, center (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


As faith leaders in communities with large populations of NYCHA residents, we have witnessed the results of chronic disinvestment in public housing first-hand. NYCHA’s aging buildings are crumbling and many residents are worried about the health and safety of their children, elders, and neighbors.

Since 2001, NYCHA has been shortchanged $3 billion in federal operating and capital funding. NYCHA has been struggling to maintain and repair its aging housing stock for decades. And this is larger than New York City, public housing authorities all over the country are set up to fail, facing gutted budgets and regulatory barriers.

When she took her post as Chair and CEO of NYCHA, Shola Olatoye knew she needed to address these problems, so she worked with communities to make a plan. Under her leadership, we developed NextGeneration NYCHA, a 10-year plan to preserve and protect public housing for current residents as well as the next generation of New Yorkers and beyond. That plan became the road forward to safe, healthy, connected homes and communities for NYCHA residents.

Four years later, as NYCHA has strived to meet the NextGen goals, we have begun to see positive changes for the lives NYCHA residents. Under NextGen NYCHA, about 8,000 residents have been placed in jobs and 18,000 have been connected with services. NYCHA launched 14 new Youth Leadership Councils to give young people the tools they need to work with NYCHA leadership to help make policy decisions that impact the quality of life of NYCHA residents, and empower them to bring their perspective to the table.

We have also seen repair response times reduced from an average of 13 days down to four days and new “FlexOps” schedules that make frontline staff available for longer service hours. NYCHA has achieved more than $313 million in savings from NextGen initiatives and NYCHA has built up nearly 3 months of operating reserves. We are proud to have served on NYCHA’s Faith Leaders Committee and are grateful for Chair Olatoye’s leadership over the last four years.

To be clear, NYCHA’s problems didn’t come with the Chair and they certainly aren’t leaving with her. It is also now up to all of us to continue to fight for the 400,000 New Yorkers who call NYCHA home. We all bear some of the burden to fix this.

We are heartened to hear the commitment of Mayor de Blasio to the NextGeneration NYCHA plan, and hope the new Chair will continue to build upon this progress. We look forward to continuing to serve on NYCHA’s Faith Leaders Committee, supporting the incoming leadership, and working together for a brighter future.

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Rev. Marc Rivera leads Primitive Christian Church and Rev. Al Cockfield leads God’s Battalion of Prayer Church.

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

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Shola Olatoye Did a Lot of Good for NYCHA Thu, 19 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Suing NYCHA https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7597-max-murphy-suing-nycha https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7597-max-murphy-suing-nycha mxm logo

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


April 9, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Suing NYCHA

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Danny Barber is the Chair of the Citywide Council of Presidents of NYCHA Tenant Associations and Elie Hecht is the Director of At Risk Community Services, which runs youth programming at NYCHA complexes. Barber and Hecht are also co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit against NYCHA, part of the recent increase in scrutiny of the public housing authority, and joined Max & Murphy for the podcast.

Barber and Hecht discuss their lawsuit as well as recent actions by Governor Andrew Cuomo regarding NYCHA, how Mayor de Blasio has managed the housing authority, and other issues related to public housing in New York City.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. 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: Suing NYCHA Mon, 09 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7355-max-murphy-podcast-nycha-ceo-shola-olatoye https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7355-max-murphy-podcast-nycha-ceo-shola-olatoye mxm logo

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


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
Dissecting Mayor De Blasio's Record As He Seeks Reelection https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection Mayor de Blasio Chirlane McCray City Hall Reelection Parade

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


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

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

Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.

More to read/view/hear:

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Dissecting Mayor De Blasio's Record As He Seeks Reelection Wed, 01 Nov 2017 23:26:00 +0000
De Blasio's Record on NYCHA https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7299-de-blasio-s-record-on-nycha https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7160-nonprofit-supporting-nycha-adds-to-early-fundraising-programs https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/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

Read more by this writer.

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


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

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [DATA] Point? $17 Billion Thu, 10 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Our Plan To Save NYCHA Is Working, But Under Attack https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6932-the-plan-to-save-public-housing-is-under-attack https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6932-the-plan-to-save-public-housing-is-under-attack NYCHA board meeting

A NYCHA board meeting


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Plan To Save NYCHA Is Working, But Under Attack Sun, 14 May 2017 23:50:24 +0000