The city budget passed this week appears to contain little new money for the New York City Housing Authority, which still faces a huge gap between planned resources and long-term repair needs.
The de Blasio’s administration’s pledged commitment of financial resources to NYCHA is significant, reflecting the city’s settlement with federal prosecutors. But it falls short of what the City Council sought during the budget process.
The city’s budget solidified as Albany again passed up a chance to assist NYCHA. Advocates were shocked when the state budget approved in April included zero new funds for NYCHA. Then, as the state legislative session wrapped up in the capitol this week, neither house took up a bill that would have reduced tax breaks for high-end condo and coop sales and directed the projected $3 billion in revenue to NYCHA. State lawmakers did approve $100 million in new capital support for NYCHA*. Yet some $450 million already earmarked by the state for NYCHA—portions of it approved as long as three years ago—has yet to be actually handed over to the authority.
Pinning down city spending for NYCHA can be difficult. The authority’s fiscal year starts in January, but the city’s commences in July. And the city’s capital budget is a moving target, only loosely linked to what actually gets spent. Capital money that doesn’t get used this year is rolled into next. The city’s capital commitment plan, which maps out how much is likely to actually be spent over the next four year, will not be released for months.
Adding to the murkiness: Neither City Hall nor NYCHA responded to City Limits’ questions this week about funding, either before or after the adoption of the budget.
The federal settlement calls for $2.5 billion of capital spending by the city over the next five years. NYCHA’s revenue plan matches that; the city will supply 42 percent of the authority’s capital funding from 2019 through 2023, compared with a federal share of 33 percent.
According to the Independent Budget Office, the city’s one-year capital budget for 2020 will be about $470 million next year. That’s about $32 million more than last year’s capital plan laid out for 2020, and includes $29 million in discretionary capital funding from individual Councilmembers.
De Blasio has long shown interest in new ways of closing NYCHA’s budget gap, like converting public housing apartments to Section 8 or developing new housing—some of it market-rate—on NYCHA property so the authority can benefit from lease payments. He moved timidly toward these controversial approaches in his 2015 Next Generation NYCHA strategy.
Late last year, with the federal settlement looming, he embraced them aggressively, calling for more than a third of NYCHA’s apartments to be converted to Section 8 and for development some NYCHA land and selling air rights from other parcels. That revenue, plus planned city, state and federal funding, would still leave NYCHA $8 billion short of its capital needs, according to the City Council.
In its response to the mayor’s executive budget, the City Council called for funding to make up for the $8 billon gap, but the final budget does not appear to have addressed that.
Capital money isn’t the only area where the city is funding NYCHA. The de Blasio administration is due to pay $288 million in NYCHA operating costs this year, double the help it provided last year, which was double the amount sent to the authority the year before that. According to NYCHA’s budget, the level of city support for day-to-day expenses is expected to fall over the next four years to $177 million.
Even before the lead-paint scandal, de Blasio spent more on NYCHA than his predecessors. The problem was that, given years of under-funding by all levels of government and the aging of the agency’s buildings, NYCHA needed more funding—and mayoral attention—than de Blasio gave.
Concerns remain that the city has still not fully embraced the scale of the work it has to do to save NYCHA.
“NYCHA families are being short changed again. This week’s city budget announcement puts only $32 million of new money toward NYCHA repairs despite a need of over $30 billion,” Vernell Robinson, a Community Voices Heard member and resident of NYCHA’s Carlton Manor, told City Limits. “At the same time the new NYCHA chair, Gregory Russ will be paid over $400,000 a year, HUD’s federal Monitor is charging over $600 an hour to rehash problems NYCHA already knows they have, and the mayor is campaigning in Iowa. Where is the money to fix these buildings’ leaky pipes, broken elevators, waste systems and antiquated heating plants?”
* Clarification: After publication of the original version of this story, City Limits was alerted to a late move by the legislature to add $100 million in capital funding for NYCHA.