Affordable Housing or Lack Thereof
In a bid to block the New York City Housing Authority’s controversial land lease plan from moving forward, a group of opponents are filing a lawsuit today in New York State Supreme Court—the second such lawsuit to be filed against the plan, which seeks to raise much-needed funds by building market-rate apartments on public housing land.
The New York City Housing Authority’s remains beset by financial difficulties—the federal sequestration left it with a $205 million budget shortfall this year—a major gouge after more than a decade of cuts (the federal government has slashed some $2 billion in funding since 2001)—and its largely mid-century housing stock is ailing, in needs of billions of dollars of work. But at least many of its buildings are getting some long-awaited repairs.
On September 1, the Authority announced that the repair backlog had dropped to 189,805, down from 422,639 on January 1 of this year—the Housing Authority has made the repairs a priority, refusing to cut staff for the program even as they had to be laid off elsewhere. And yesterday the city announced that a capital project bond issuance has generated $732 million for major renovation work.
Affordable Housing or Lack Thereof
A good New York City apartment is hard to find and even harder to replace. And so New Yorkers display an unbending will when it comes to holding onto one—the official motto of the Manhattan rental market should be never, ever, ever let go. And few do—intimidation, lawsuits or a big fat cash settlement are generally the only things that can part a New Yorker from a beloved (or at least not hated) apartment.
So it’s unsurprising that a group of low-income Knickerbocker Plaza tenants is fighting a city attempt to relocate them to smaller units in the complex. Section 8 tenants at the former Mitchell-Lama complex in Yorkville were recently informed that they’ll either need to move to smaller units that comply with new guidelines or pay more to remain in their comparatively spacious units.
Out of Comptrol
It’s not just the mayor’s race that’s growing increasingly contentious.
At an Uptown campaign stop that was billed as former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s first policy proposal announcement, the comptroller candidate toured the Frederick Douglass NYCHA housing complex before briefly criticizing Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial proposal to fingerprint all public housing residents–all the while mercilessly blasting his opponent.
The five leading Democratic mayoral candidates–sleeping bags, gym shorts and bouquets in tow–spent last night sleeping in a Harlem public housing development, heeding Rev. Al Sharpton’s call to “dramatize” the many maladies residents of the city’s massive housing system face on a daily basis.
“We started hearing how people were ignored and I said the thing to do is, not only bring the candidates but to dramatize the issue. All of us stay in the development one night,” Mr. Sharpton said last night at the Lincoln Houses, a development nestled next to the East River. “One night’s not going to solve the problem. But one night is going to dramatize that there’s an issue because the media will have to going forward say, one of the central issues in this city is people in public housing.”
By the time Anne Pierre and her sons arrived at 199 Amboy Street, it was after midnight. The heat of the unusually warm April day had all but drained away, but there was a mellowness to the air, a contrast to the sharp, cold spring nights that had come before. From the outside, the red-brick building looked clean and well-maintained, though the darkness made it difficult to tell for sure. In Ms. Pierre’s experience, the exteriors of homeless shelters were poor predictors of conditions inside.
Late though it was, the family’s arrival at the Brownsville shelter marked the somewhat triumphant culmination of a bureaucratic odyssey that had started two days earlier, when Ms. Pierre had reapplied for shelter at the family intake center in the Bronx. It was only somewhat triumphant in that 199 Amboy was just a 10-day placement, the latest in a string of temporary housing assignments that had become the norm since the family lost its eligibility for shelter in February. But as it turned out, 199 Amboy was the nicest place Ms. Pierre and the two boys stayed since entering the shelter system in June 2012.
As 9-year-old Jordan described their arrival, “When we saw it, we was shocked. It was nice. It was decent.”
Decent is the kind of good-enough existence that has seemed to elude the family for the last 10 months. But it felt potentially within reach again when they fell asleep that night at a little after 1 a.m., relieved if still wary, with the alarm set for 6 a.m.—the preparations necessary for the school day ahead as uncompromising as the dawn.
Like many other families who have recently swelled the ranks of the city’s homeless population, routine has taken on an almost talismanic significance for Ms. Pierre and her boys. They live an approximation of a life that involved, until recently, an apartment of their own—a two-bedroom on Legion Street rented for four years with the help of a Section 8 voucher. Ms. Pierre paid $350 of the $1,100 rent until a recurrent mold problem disqualified the apartment.
New York City’s public housing complexes are small cities unto themselves, sealed off from the grid and flow of surrounding streets, pinwheels of bricks and concrete with scant patches of green. Built in 1956, Forest Houses, a 46-building New York City Housing Authority complex in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, is characteristic of its era. Besides the fact that the buildings top out at two stories, they do not relate to their immediate environment, let alone the environment.
More than 50 years later, affordable housing remains one of the city’s greatest challenges (if not its greatest). The architecture, on the other hand, has improved considerably. Arbor House, a privately-owned 124-unit, housing complex that abuts Forest Houses, opened today at 770 East 166th Street. It boasts not only energy-efficient features and a living green wall, but also a 10,000 square foot hydroponic rooftop farm.
Stepping off the elevator on the 12th floor of 250 Broadway, you pass by a dozen photographs of idyllic, almost bucolic housing projects. The dogwoods are in bloom, matching the pink matting within the frames. That the pictures are a bit faded only adds to the utopianism of the scenes: families frolic in green grass courtyards, the sun is always shining.
These days, the picture is far less rosy: Apartments are overcome with toxic black mold, riven with cavernous leaks, overrun with rats, sometimes all three and then some. Repairs? Fuggetaboutit. Those will be years away. And that’s just inside; outside, it’s a war zone.
Or so the city’s tabloids would have you believe.
But the Housing Authority—or NYCHA, as almost everyone calls it, pronouncing it like some bureaucratic sneeze—represents much more than those run-down apartments we read about, of which there are fewer than the coverage suggests.
All the local scrutiny of the city’s Housing Authoirty this summer has caught Washington’s attention, as well, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development is reviewing the public housing agency’s books to make sure everything is in order, according to a spokesman.
The review began earlier this month, HUD public affairs officer Jerrod Brown said, and was prompted by reports in the Daily News of mismanaged funds. Mr. Brown stressed that the review was still in its earlier stages and was not a condemnation or confirmation any wrongdoing of NYCHA. Instead, the review is a matter of practice.
Affordable Housing or Lack Thereof
“We’ve been doing it the same way since before we had email,” affordable housing developer Martin Dunn lamented, speaking to The Observer about the grueling process through which New Yorkers have historically had to apply for subsidized housing in the city.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn put it even more starkly in her 2011 State of the City address, when she called on the Bloomberg administration to find a way to digitize and streamline the process: “In a 21st century world—where you can do everything online—we still make people apply for housing using 18th century technology.”
Today is the day, as they say, and as of working hours, NYC Housing Connect should be live, the first one-stop shop for subsidized housing online.