NYCHA gets much-needed funding authority | The Riverdale Press

By Abigail Nehring

The New York City Housing Authority will soon move forward with its plan to place some 25,000 apartments in a new NYCHA Preservation Trust – a public benefit corporation that state lawmakers voted on last week.

The creation of the trust is the first major hurdle in a plan that NYCHA Chairman and CEO Gregory Russ laid out two years ago to raise the billions of dollars needed to restore his portfolio of more than 177,000 apartments. good condition and comply with basic health and safety standards. safety standards.

Once Governor Kathy Hochul signs the legislation, NYCHA will be able to apply for valuable Section 8 housing bonds for apartments placed in the trust and issue bonds secured by their income from leases. The so-called “Blueprint for Change” offers a new interpretation of US housing law and introduces the nation’s largest public housing authority into a new funding paradigm.

The bill is a revised version of a similar bill that foundered last year. His fate remained uncertain this year until the final weeks of the legislative session when Senator Julia Salazar, a former Republican turned Democrat, stepped in to sponsor him alongside Democratic Congressman Steven Cymbrowitz, forming an unlikely alliance that pushed the bill forward. bill in the Assembly by a vote of 132-18 on Wednesday and on the Senate, where it passed Thursday by a vote of 38-25.

With units placed in trust, NYCHA can apply for Section 8 Tenant Protection Bonds for units placed in trust, thereby accessing a more accessible stream of funding that has historically proven to be more reliable than Section 9 of the Housing Act, which funds public housing. NYCHA will then be able to issue municipal bonds backed by the revenue from the leases of the units.

“To a certain extent, this subjects public housing to market forces,” said Elizabeth Gyori, attorney at Legal Services NYC/Manhattan. “You allow bonds to finance social housing and so there is a market logic behind it. This is how many public infrastructures are financed.

Ahead of last week’s vote, the bill won support from several groups that had been reluctant to approve it, including the Community Service Society and the Legal Aid Society, which said the preservation trust was an “opportunity unique” for NYCHA to access full capital funding to improve living conditions in its buildings.

“This is a major victory for New Yorkers who call NYCHA home,” Hochul said in a statement after the Senate vote last week. “This legislation has the power to unlock additional federal funds and generate billions of dollars in renovations – after decades of federal divestment – ​​and provide critical improvements to developments across the city.”

The atmosphere was jubilant outside Nostrand Homes in Sheepshead Bay on Saturday, where Mayor Eric Adams and state officials gathered with residents to celebrate a key win on the Albany mayor’s agenda.

“The bottom line is the tenants, you did it,” Adams said. “Because none of us would have supported that, if you hadn’t stood for it.”

But the bill’s reception was more lukewarm among the 400,000 remaining NYCHA residents living in 335 housing estates across the city, some of whom received packets of information about it in a language they couldn’t. to understand.

“A lot of tenants I talk to have concerns about this plan,” Gyori said. “In particular, NYCHA says they will outsource management to NYCHA after the conversion of a set of buildings. Why would you want NYCHA to continue operations of this building? NYCHA might not be properly reformed, and they will be stuck with the same direction they have right now.

Many of the 3,176 residents of Marble Hill Houses, currently undergoing a $42million heating system overhaul, returned home last March to find copies of a 60-page PowerPoint hanging from their doorknobs. in plastic bags.

“There are some unknowns,” said tenant association president Tony Edwards. “Rent is still supposed to be 30% of your income. But how much can we really trust him? The housing authority itself doesn’t have the best track record. People are suspicious of what they say.

Edwards said it was difficult to find space for tenants to discuss their options.

“The fact is that we have the option of going into the program or staying out. In order to really get a full consensus from people, I need to create a forum large enough to have a pro/con discussion. When it comes to a reunion, I’m lucky if I have 25 residents. At the last tenant meeting, only a handful showed up.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who voted for confidence, was persuaded to cast that vote based on last-minute changes.

“One thing that tipped me off is that residents will have a vote,” Dinowitz said, pointing to a key revision that gives residents a say in deciding whether to transfer units into the public trust. It calls for a “minimum percentage” of tenants to participate, though questions remain about how NYCHA will interpret that language.

“If only 5% of the people vote, it’s hard to consider it a legitimate vote,” he said. “What is the magic number, I’m not sure. The board will have to determine that, and it has to be a democratic action. »

Dinowitz voted for the bill despite some reservations. He said the Bailey Houses on 193rd Street were in better condition when he lived there.

“At the time, I had never given it much thought. There weren’t many problems. It wasn’t that old back then. It breaks my heart when people have to live in terrible conditions. »

And lawmakers have continued to voice concerns that NYCHA residents in their districts have raised.

Public housing represents one of the few truly affordable options available to New York City renters, and NYCHA plays an outsized role in housing for low-income families. A 2017 survey found that the average income of NYCHA residents was $24,000. Yet its properties have deteriorated dramatically in recent decades, in part because of federal divestment, which has perpetuated a cycle in which deferred repairs further widen the funding gap each year. Dangers abound, from peeling lead paint to frequent heating and hot water outages, rat infestations, leaks and mold-lined ceilings. NYCHA estimates it needs about $40 billion to restore its buildings to good condition.

The idea for a public trust grew out of guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2018, creating a pathway for NYCHA to preserve units deemed obsolete based on health and safety criteria. NYCHA will lease these units to the public trust while retaining ownership and continuing to manage them. The law provides for a nine-member board to govern the preservation trust, with seats filled by NYCHA’s chief executive and chief financial officers, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, and three each appointed by the mayor and the NYCHA CEO. Appointments will include at least four NYCHA residents.

A South Bronx-based group called Save Section 9 fought to highlight the lack of tenant engagement ahead of last week’s Albany vote and the broader plan NYCHA began rolling out in 2019 and 2020. dubbed the Blueprint for Change.

I think “25,000 units is too much at once. We’re calling the RAD/PACT plan on meth,” said co-founder Ramona Ferreyra, referring to NYCHA’s rental assistance demonstrator program, which converts housing to Section 8 of the US Housing Act and leases buildings to private management companies for renovations.

Ferreyra lives at Mitchel Houses in Mott Haven and previously participated in NYCHA tenant forums, but was quickly disappointed by the housing authority’s focus on Section 8 conversions.

“When we talk about saving Section 9, one thing we really point out is the lack of tenant engagement,” she said. “The thing is, you have a group of people in the Bronx who don’t support the legislation. The only public housing recognized in America is that under Section 9 of the Congressional Code. Section 8 does not have these protections built into the statute.

Louis Flores, who founded a Bronx group called Fight for NYCHA, had similar criticisms.

“The number one problem we have with trust is that NYCHA has never wanted to subject itself to any scrutiny or accountability,” Flores said. “They never wanted anyone to tell them what to do. We know that for a fact and that’s how they let the conditions get so bad.

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