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U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez announced legislation last week to increase funding for more than 20,000 public housing units that they say were left shortchanged when the units were shifted to federal oversight over a decade ago.

At the Jacob Riis houses in the East Village on Feb. 20, the lawmakers presented their proposed legislation, which they said would provide for steady and dedicated funding to 21 developments in New York City. If passed, the Public Housing Equal Treatment Act of 2007 would provide these properties with an estimated $100 million in direct federal funding, which would cover a nearly $88 million deficit the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) incurred from running these developments.

“For too long the federal and state governments have turned their backs on the tenants of these 21 developments,” Schumer said. “These tenants should not live in fear for their future, which is why the federal government should step in, as it has for NYCHA developments across the city, and support affordable housing for our most vulnerable citizens.”

Victor Bach, senior housing analyst for the Community Service Society of New York, said the move is an important one. “If we get these developments federalized, it will go a long way to covering a huge NYCHA deficit,” Bach said. “The other recourse is to demolish or sell these properties to private owners, and we don’t want that to happen.”

With Schumer chair of the Senate’s housing committee, the bill is likely to pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The proposed act is expected to be presented in committees this week.

Initially, a combination of federal, state or local governments financed all 343 developments run by NYCHA. Later, 322 of the buildings were successfully federalized under the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But 21 other public housing developments were not allowed to be included in the count that determines federal subsidies for NYCHA housing when they shifted to federal oversight in July 1995, according to NYCHA spokesman Howard Marder. As a result, NYCHA has had to divert federal funding from other properties to the unsubsidized locations.

Developments in every borough except Queens are on the list of federally unfunded NYCHA complexes, including the 2,025-unit Castle Hill Houses in the Bronx and Brooklyn’s 1,765-unit Marlboro Houses. In total, more than 48,000 New Yorkers live in these buildings. The Jacob Riis Houses is not on the list of the 21 developments. Velázquez said the extra funds would go toward allowing for timely repairs, enriching community centers and programs, and maintaining affordable housing.

– Tanveer Ali

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