It’s been said that it can be virtually impossible to get any two New Yorkers to agree on anything. Our instinctual urge to disagree might also apply to discussions around NYCHA, which serves more than half a million New Yorkers but appears to have generated an even larger number of opinions on how to improve the dire state of public housing.
At a time when its infrastructure is crumbling and thousands of residents may have to prepare for another winter without heat or hot water, it might seem like we should just fix everything – or at least many things – at once. Overhaul NYCHA’s board and revamp its management structure. Change the way NYCHA staffs its buildings and deals with repairs. Shake up the ways in which NYCHA spends money and how it is authorized to do so.
Once we fix all the pieces, at least everything will work, right?
Not really. The reality is that, no matter how modern or streamlined its management structure may become – and no matter how transparent or efficient its spending plans may be – NYCHA just does not have nearly enough financial resources to serve its massive population. Reports show that the authority needs more than $31 billion over the next years to upgrade heating systems, replace broken elevators and fix apartments, among other things.
This is why anyone who cares about the future of New York City’s public housing should be reading a recently published report by the Citizens Housing & Planning Council (CHPC), which highlighted why the future of NYCHA lies in public-private partnerships. It is a report that prescribed fewer solutions but focused only on those that will provide what NYCHA really needs: private capital.
CHPC focused on the nearly 900 NYCHA apartments that were renovated and having been managed by a private entity – Triborough Preservation Partners – since 2015. The research painted a picture of success across virtually every metric. The volume of maintenance work orders is down, resident satisfaction is up, and the buildings are more sustainable than ever.
The bottom line is that when a private partner enters the picture with its own significant financial resources, the equation for improving NYCHA becomes much simpler.
More recently, Mayor de Blasio bolstered this effort by laying out plans to expand participation in HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program and bring in private partners at another 2,400 public housing units across the city. (NYCHA has already seen positive results through RAD at its Ocean Bay complex, where 1,400 units were renovated by a private development team.)
It is also encouraging to see other groups like Enterprise Community Partners stepping up to join this discussion by putting forth additional material designed to help explain the RAD program and its benefits directly to NYCHA residents and local communities.
The real question now is about staying focused on effective solutions to help NYCHA, rather than being caught up in the intricacies of overhauling NYCHA itself. In the end, it’s not really about how many things could conceivably be fixed or changed. Instead, it’s about which fixes make the most sense and will have the greatest positive impacts on the lives of residents.
Those who take the time to read and digest CHPC’s report will be one step closer to answering that all-important question.
Jolie Milstein is the President and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH).