On September 20, City Limits published the story “NYCHA Crime Witnesses Face Obstacles When They Seek Safety.” This week NYCHA submitted a letter to the editor reacting to that article.

NYCHA writes: We are writing to correct the record regarding the emergency transfer process at the New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA Crime Witnesses Face Obstacles When They Seek Safety,” September 20, 2017). NYCHA is improving our emergency transfer policies and the results are tangible: the average time to process an emergency transfer decreased 31 percent from 2015 to 2017. We digitized emergency transfer forms and records to make it faster and easier to process and manage cases, provided new training on VAWA regulations and residents can now apply for an emergency transfer online through our online resident portal.

The article fundamentally misunderstands the process and challenges with emergency transfers and grossly misstates the vacant apartment tracking system. For example, the article conflates numerous emergency transfer categories and policies, removing nuance that is critical to understanding the issue. The simple fact is that NYCHA is at 99 percent occupancy. The housing affordability crisis in the city means families are simply not moving.  If emergency transfer applicants have additional needs (a particular neighborhood, number of bedrooms or medical needs) relocation becomes even more challenging. Today, NYCHA has only 958 open apartments throughout all 5 boroughs. We have 398 VAWA emergency transfer requests, in addition to 809 medical transfer requests, and 9,920 transfer requests for other critical needs.

Furthermore, the article relies on incorrect crime data, falsely reinforcing a negative stereotype of life in public housing; NYPD data shows that crime is down 7.2 percent throughout NYCHA in 2017.

We strive to be as transparent and accessible as possible, which is why we’ll continue to communicate to residents, advocates and all New Yorkers as we improve our emergency transfer policies.

City Limits responds: It is unclear how our article “fundamentally misunderstood” the process or “grossly misstated” the system for tracking vacant apartments. In the story in question, author Ese Olumhense acknowledged many of the points made in this letter: that changes to the system had occurred, that some measures of performance had improved, that NYCHA’s low vacancy rate was a real obstacle and that “families that stay on the waiting list a long time are likely hard to place because they are very large or very small family sizes, which don’t fit the majority of the vacant apartments.” A NYCHA spokesperson did speak with Olumhense, but declined to be interviewed for attribution.

 The article did not rely on “incorrect” crime data, as this letter alleges. It used the number of “major felony crimes” reported in NYCHA’s annual statistics within the Mayor’s Management Report. As Olumhense stated in the story, that the number of major felonies within NYCHA in fiscal year 2016 was roughly the same as it was in fiscal year 1995, the result of a general uptick in NYCHA crime that began in fiscal year 2011. The article did, however, fail to use the most updated statistics. The fiscal 2017 Mayor’s Management Report, which was published two days before the article ran, indicates the number of major felony crimes fell 2.32 percent from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2017. The number of major felony crimes reported at NYCHA properties last fiscal year was still greater than it has been in nine of the past 11 years. We have added the new data to the story.

City Limits has reported extensively on the fiscal and capital challenges facing NYCHA as a result of neglect by government at all levels. That context is vitally important. But it doesn’t change the fact that many NYCHA families who believe they are in danger are turned down for emergency transfers or endure long delays in making a move under that system. That is the point of our story.