There was a time when the City Council didn’t even have a committee dedicated to overseeing the public housing where nearly half a million city residents live. When the first subcommittee on NYCHA was started in 2004, one skeptical reporter hinted that its primary purpose was to justify a stipend to the Brooklyn pol tapped to lead it.
Whatever the initial motivation, the move proved prescient, because in the years that followed funding failures by all levels of government pushed NYCHA deeper into crisis. The Council panel—made a full committee in 2014—while still possessing little formal power over the authority, has at least offered a place for airing the increasing alarm over NYCHA’s prospects.
The Council committee on NYCHA is now headed by Alicka Ampry-Samuel, a first-term Democrat from a Brooklyn district that is home to a lot of public housing, including the Brownsville Houses where Ampry-Samuel grew up.
On Wednesday’s Max & Murphy Show on WBAI, Ampry-Samuel described her cautious optimism that the federal monitor will help the authority turn the page—and her relief that the settlement explicitly calls for tenant engagement. She also made a strong call for open minds on the administration’s plan to convert more public housing to Section 8 (sometimes called RAD, or Rental Assistance Demonstration) and develop NYCHA land to generate funds for repairs.
“We’re at a point where sometimes you have to make very difficult decisions,” she said. “I didn’t think we’d come to this point. But we’re at a time where there is a $32 billion capital repair bill. … And the city of NY needs to be able to bring money in and generate revenue to address those actual capital repair needs. … and if money is not going into traditional public housing and the money is going into section 8 programs, then we have to make sure we apply for as many RAD deals as we possibly can. But we have to make sure the tenant protections are there with the new lease deals and new management structures.”
She added: “When it comes to developing vacant land, what they deem underutilized space, the land is there. We’re building on every parcel of land we can think of. We need to make sure the funding generated from that deal goes directly to repair every single apartment in that particular development.”
“It’s a necessary evil. Development is necessary. There was a conversation also in the 2.0 about selling of air rights for shorter buildings. We have to figure out ways to bring money in, but we have to make sure that the residents who are already part of the fabric of that development benefit from all the deals,” she continued. “It’s a difficult time and as much as I want to say ‘No, no, no, I just want to think about parks and recreation,’ we live in a world where there is a shortage of affordable housing.We need to cast a wide net, and pull it and see what we can bring in.”
Ampry-Samuel also took issue with City Hall appointing a person with no housing expertise as interim head of the authority.
Listen to our conversation below, or to the full show, which includes an interview with Sen. Alessandra Biaggi.
Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel
Max & Murphy: Full Show for February 6, 2019