What is RAD, and What Does it Mean for the Future of NYCHA?

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NYCHA’s LaGuardia Houses in the lower East side section of Manhattan.NYCHA needs massive amounts of funding—more than $31 billion—but the Authority just doesn’t have the funds.

That’s why last November, the city announced that it’s seeking to transfer the operation of 62,000 NYCHA apartments to private operators.

Such an arrangement would transfer these units to Section 8, the federal housing voucher program, under an Obama-era program called Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), allowing the operators to tap into federal subsidies.

Residents would still pay the same rent—capped at 30 percent of incomes—and remain in their buildings, but the private-sector operator would be responsible for renovations, repairs and maintenance.

RAD conversions have already occurred at two NYCHA properties: Ocean Bay Houses in Rockaway and Twin Parks West in Fordham Heights.

At Ocean Bay, the transfer and renovations —which include new flood protection barriers and a new boiler system — have gone somewhat smoothly, according to Shelterforce, a nonprofit publication that covers housing and development.

“Before the changes my family didn’t feel safe,” one Ocean Bay resident told the site. “Now things are better because the kids can go out and play. Before we lived in a one bedroom but now I live in a four bedroom. What can I complain about?”

But others were not as excited, with some residents telling Shelterforce they were skeptical of the changes and felt many of the renovations were merely cosmetic.

This week, RAD made more headlines when it was revealed by Politico that NYCHA was considering a plan to demolish and rebuild two buildings at the Fulton Houses in Chelsea instead of making repairs. In addition to space for the relocated tenants, the buildings would also house market-rate units, according to the report.

In addition, Gothamist reported this week that the city has amended its RAD conversion plan to shift more than 2,300 units to Section 18, a different federal program that unlocks more lucrative subsidies but which might ensure fewer protections for tenants.

“There is no assurance that…Section 18 rent assistance contracts will be sustained after they end in 20 years,” a group of concerned advocates wrote in comments submitted to NYCHA in February, Gothamist reported.

These reports raise questions that are central to concerns about the city’s RAD conversions: How does NYCHA communicate and get support from tenants about proposed changes that might have profound impacts on tenants’ lives? What protections for tenants are guaranteed following conversions? How will monitoring and enforcement by the private operator work? What is lost by eliminating the public nature of public housing?

On Wednesday, Hunter College’s Department of Urban Policy & Planning hosted a panel talk with advocates, tenant leaders and policy experts that addressed these questions and more. You can watch their discussion — titled “Under the RADar: Community Development and the Future of NYCHA” — in full below.

Video by Marc Bussanich

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