WHERE’S TINO?

Amid news of dramatic budget cuts now facing the New York City Housing Authority, one person has been conspicuously silent: Tino Hernandez, its chair. The New York Times reported Friday that NYCHA stands to lose one-quarter of its operating subsidy, money used for maintenance and repairs, under a new funding formula developed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But Hernandez wasn’t even quoted in the piece. Instead, it quotes NYCHA’s general manager, Douglas Apple, sounding concerned but calm: “It would likely have a significant impact on our personnel, and that obviously has a long-term deleterious effect,” he said. By contrast, Stephanie Cowart, director of the Niagara Falls Authority, told the Times, “I’ve never seen anything this devastating occur in public housing.”

Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the New York’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, has been far more outspoken than Hernandez in discussing how proposed HUD cuts would hurt his agency. At a conference Thursday, he spoke animatedly about the “federal government’s wavering commitment to affordable housing.”

NYCHA’s low profile isn’t surprising, said Victor Bach, senior housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society. “There’s certainly been a tendency to soft-pedal what the Bush administration is trying to do,” he said, noting that the agency was similarly quiet when Bush proposed block-granting Section 8. Part of that might be deference to the mayor, he suggested, or a desire to work through membership organizations like the Council of Large Public Housing Agencies.

NYCHA spokesperson Howard Marder said it was too early for hand wringing, given that the rule hasn’t even been published. Hernandez has testified before Congress in the past, he added, and already reached out to the New York delegation on this issue. “We’re representing the best interest of our residents—and of NYCHA,” he said.

Bach hopes he’s right. “This is a time when we need as much vocal power as possible,” he said. “I hope if NYCHA doesn’t use its own voice, it’s working behind the scenes.”


—Cassi Feldman