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de Blasio NYCHA plan shows real commitment

May 22, 2015

The Mayor’s 200,000 unit Housing New York plan gets most of the attention, but de Blasio’s Next Generation NYCHA plan (NextGen) is positioned ensure the future of NYCHA, and come to rank as one of the Mayor’s signature housing legacies.

The Commitment of De Blasio’s Next Generation NYCHA Plan

The Mayor’s 200,000 unit Housing New York plan gets most of the attention, but de Blasio’s Next Generation NYCHA plan (NextGen) is positioned ensure the future of NYCHA, and come to rank as one of the Mayor’s signature housing legacies.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is the most important source of deeply and permanently affordable housing in our city. It is home to over 400,000 New Yorkers – more people then live in Minneapolis. But NYCHA, along with federally funded housing programs across the country, has been under attack for decades. Cuts to federal operating funds have compounded year after year, leaving the agency with a deep and seemingly intractable operating deficit. Other public housing around the country has fallen into disastrous conditions, with some projects eventually becoming depopulated and demolished. But far from failing, NYCHA has a years-long waiting list of tenants hoping to get in.

Now, this doesn’t mean NYCHA has been a success in recent years, and the Authority itself also bears responsibility for its current situation. They have had serious problems that have long frustrated tenants, including a monstrous backlog of repairs and capital upgrades, and management that is too often inefficient and callous. But saving NYCHA is no simple task. It requires both an overhaul of its management practices, and a major, long-term commitment to shoring up its finances and increasing its operating funding.

NYCHA doesn’t always command the attention of other housing programs, and prior Mayors have been unwilling to tackle these problems. An administration taking on those problems does so knowing that it probably won’t get the credit it deserves. All the more reason that Mayor de Blasio and NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye should be commended for the remarkable commitment that the NextGen NYCHA plan represents.

NextGen NYCHA proposes many solutions, including immediately beginning to stabilize NYCHA’s finances by ending the unfair practice of requiring NYCHA to make Payments in Lieu of Taxes. This builds on the already-waived annual payment of over $70 million to the NYPD, and achieves an additional $33 million in operating savings per year. This is significant money that comes directly out of the City budget, and is a true act of commitment.

The plan lays out a path to use some NYCHA land resources – an idea that was handled incorrectly by the previous mayor – to both build 10,000 new units of affordable housing, and explore a limited number of mixed-income developments on underutilized land. This policy needs to be implemented carefully, with an eye toward making sure to not concentrate pockets of poverty, and a rock-solid dedication to leasing, not selling, this land, allowing NYCHA to ensure its continual use in the public interest.

But, along with strategies to leverage more federal resources, this is poised to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue which will be used for building improvements and better community amenities at adjacent developments, and also to support NYCHA’s broader financial needs. It’s important to recognize and ensure that this money goes toward NYCHA’s primary mission – that all housing owned by NYCHA stays affordable permanently.

And the plan is more than just a housing plan – it’s a vision of NYCHA as not just a collection of buildings, but as a valued community, and one which should be integrated with the larger city. For instance, it brings in the Department of Youth and Community Development to run 24 Community Centers, and the Department of the Aging to run 17 Senior Centers. There is also a comprehensive strategy to better utilize the ground floor retail and community spaces, which can serve as resources to not only NYCHA residents, but the surrounding neighborhood as well. And it addresses the need to build economic opportunity for NYCHA residents with a commitment to doubling the number of residents it connects to jobs, and providing over 500 residents with skill-building apprenticeships and a pathway to union membership through a Project Labor Agreement with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.

The devil is in the details, and NYCHA tenant groups will correctly have a lot to say about the plan and issues to confront in the coming months. But there is no doubt that Mayor de Blasio and NYCHA Chair Olatoye have laid out impressive and politically courageous vision.

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