BY SURAJ PATEL
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is caught in a tailspin of underfunding and administrative failure.
NYCHA’s funding overwhelmingly comes from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), whose budget is determined by Congress. Our federal representatives have allowed NYCHA to be stripped of $3 billion since 2001, a catastrophic underinvestment in NYCHA properties that has led to dangerous conditions. In addition to cuts to its operating budget, NYCHA has $17 billion in unmet capital requirements needed to conduct systemwide repairs and upgrades.
The funding cuts are exacerbated by administrative mismanagement. Recently, NYCHA has been subjected to legal action for faking years of lead inspections and releasing false reports with the full approval and knowledge of senior leadership. NYCHA has even ignored direct complaints from its residents about dangerous lead levels. According to state reports, 79 percent of residents said that NYCHA did nothing when lead paint was discovered in their apartments; 80 percent had children whose blood-lead levels have not been tested; and 54 percent had called NYCHA for repairs, but have been waiting for more than a month.
It’s time to put the future of NYCHA firmly in the hands of NYCHA residents themselves. There are two good ways to protect the future of NYCHA.
First, we should give NYCHA residents the chance to vote on converting their housing into limited-equity, low-income co-ops owned by resident organizations. Units would remain low-income and could not be sold off, and residents would be able to choose the service providers to handle their utilities, repairs and upgrades. Moreover, a co-op model gives residents new ways to raise money for upkeep, while freeing them from the inefficiencies of the broken NYCHA bureaucracy.
Second, NYCHA should explore ways to maximize the efficiency of unused space within its developments. This could be accomplished by building ground-level retail, giving residents better grocery and shopping options while improving quality of life. Retail tenant opportunities would be reserved for NYCHA residents themselves, who would receive city assistance and loans to start small businesses in their communities. Providing better retail options and economic opportunity would vastly improve the quality of life for residents who suffer from persistent underinvestment and mismanagement by the city.
Optional co-op conversions and resident-owned retail buildouts will begin to ease pressure on residents and promise a better future for NYCHA. We need to elect people who will fight for NYCHA’s future, work to reverse the budget cuts of the last two decades and demand additional federal oversight on NYCHA’s spending.
Suraj Patel is the Democratic candidate challenging Rep. Carolyn Maloney in the June primary.