Report Sees Crisis in NYCHA Conditions, Hope in Density

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NYCHA's vast empire includes 2,500 individual buildings.

Photo by: Jarrett Murphy

NYCHA's vast empire includes 2,500 individual buildings.

It is not news that New York's public housing stock is suffering from a two-headed crisis of underfunding and aging buildings. But it's possible that NYCHA's maintenance problems aren't merely growing steadily worse over time, but getting worse faster as time goes on, a situation that housing advocates refer to as “accelerating deterioration.”

The report on citywide housing conditions by Comptroller Scott Stringer released on Monday suggests this is the case with at least some building conditions in NYCHA.

Take, for instance, the presence of rodents. From 2005 to 2008, the number of NYCHA apartments reporting troubles with rats and mice increased by 4.4 percentage points. From 2008 to 2011, the number increased by 6.1 percentage points.

Units needing more heat increased by 0.8 percentage points from 2005 to 2008, then by 4.6 points from 2008 to 2011. Cracks in walls and ceilings? Up 3.6 points from '05 to '08, and 10 points from '08 to '11.

“The fact that public housing lags so far behind other housing types in New York City is ironic considering the original mission of the New York City Housing Authority,” the report finds.

“Setting irony aside, it is clear that the New York City Housing Authority will require sustained attention from all tiers of government, especially the federal level, in order to bring its vital affordable housing units back to a state of good repair – an effort that will require at least $18 billion according to City Council testimony delivered by NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye earlier this year.”

“Alleviating NYCHA’s housing quality dilemma will be among the city’s greatest challenges as it seeks to preserve some 120,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade,” the report adds. (NYCHA, which felt the report overlooked recent progress, responded late on Monday.)

If there's good news in Stringer's report, it's that denser housing tends to be in better shape. This is happy stuff because Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plan revolves around increased density. In general, the report finds, bigger buildings have fewer maintenance issues—except for public housing buildings, as it turns out.

Less happy is this finding: Even if you control for the kind of apartment they're in, how much they make and how rich or poor their neighborhoods is, black New Yorkers are substantially more likely to live in deficient housing that others. Compared to whites, blacks live in apartments with an average of .51 more maintenance problems. Latinos have on average .28 more and Asians .11 more deficiencies in their housing as whites.

Five of the 10 neighborhoods with the poorest housing conditions are in the Bronx, according to the report.