Engagement is the foundation for reversing a historical backlog of distrust that is stalling the agency’s current efforts not only to restore its portfolio to a state of good repair but reinvent itself in a way that better serves tenants in the future.

Adi Talwar

The Hope Gardens NYCHA development in Bushwick.

Despite the unprecedented challenges COVID added to our ability to reform NYCHA, there are signs we might be starting to make progress in restoring our already beleaguered public housing system. From federal receivership to experiments with private intervention and systemically rethinking its organizational structure, the agency has taken steps toward effective innovation during this year of ongoing crisis.

Yet it is no exaggeration to say NYCHA’s future hinges on bridging the gap of trust that has grown between its staff and residents. The agency itself acknowledges this credibility gap in its new Transformation Plan. Decades of unaddressed tenant complaints—broken elevators, mold, lack of mid-winter heat—have taken their toll. 

To restructure and rebuild effectively, the agency must center the process on resident outreach that meaningfully informs tenants and bases planning on their feedback.

A critical case in point is the ongoing controversy over NYCHA’s Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) initiative, which enables the agency to secure financing from private partners to address urgent infrastructure repairs by converting NYCHA campuses to Section 8 housing. PACT has proven successful at updating public housing infrastructure while ensuring strict tenant rights, but NYCHA residents remain understandably wary of the program as a potential mechanism of displacement.

Into this breach, as NYCHA plans to redevelop a third of its portfolio through PACT, the agency has taken an important step: releasing a Request For Proposals (RFP) for a $10 million program of resident engagement specifically to guarantee the careful implementation of a solution that could make the difference between stabilizing its financial crisis or deepening its conditions of unlivable disrepair.

The success of that engagement is going to make or break PACT, which could make or break NYCHA’s ability to address its staggering capital needs.

Because let’s be clear: at present New Yorkers in public housing face two equally unappealing options: they can protest PACT conversions, as many are doing, which means their buildings may sink deeper into unlivable conditions—or they can place their faith in a landlord that has done little to earn it over the past several decades, which many are doing only after exhaustive study of the options available to them.

The agency’s Transformation Plan articulates a renewed commitment to establishing a ‘culture of service’ that will rebuild trust in the context of addressing immediate concerns, like the daily upkeep of living conditions. But that goal, though this goes unstated, is really the foundation for more sweeping measures to set NYCHA on a path to success over the next decade. 

Effective community engagement—outreach that doesn’t just passively solicit feedback, but proactively educates residents and makes their input the backbone of decision-making—isn’t something NYCHA needs to do because it sounds nice or as lip service to equity and inclusion. Engagement is the foundation for reversing a historical backlog of distrust that is stalling the agency’s current efforts not only to restore its portfolio to a state of good repair but reinvent itself in a way that better serves tenants in the future. 

The good news is we know what effective engagement looks like and the results it can produce.

For example, our team at Karp Strategies, a community-minded urban planning consultancy, led research on behalf of Enterprise Community Partners for NYCHA’s program evaluation of PACT at the Ocean Bay Apartments complex in Queens. This evaluation offered strong and clear recommendations for NYCHA’s further rollout of the program. Our goal in speaking with residents wasn’t simply to check an obligatory box but rather to make sure community concerns were addressed in real time. Through focus groups and interviews we ensured the transition to Section 8 housing was working for current tenants. This is the kind of partnership that builds trust and enables innovative solutions.

Too often resident relations are either treated as a siloed concern or subtly acknowledged as the basis for success amid a wave of urgent restructuring priorities. That’s simply not going to cut it for NYCHA on PACT—which, unlike the federal funding that never comes at the time or scale we need it, is an actionable solution we can implement effectively right now. 

Let’s seize this transition period as the opportunity to put NYCHA residents in the driver’s seat in shaping a brighter future for public housing in New York.

Ali Sutherland-Brown is a Director at Karp Strategies, a New York City-based WBE-certified urban planning consultancy. 

2 thoughts on “Opinion: As NYCHA Rolls Out PACT Plan to Fund Repairs, Resident Engagement is Key

  1. I am currently an occupant in one of their current portfolio. I would like to know in greater detail as to what you discovered about the PACT program. Many of the current residents, myself included, are weary about this project. Take a look at what happened to the residents of Prospect Plaza. Promises were made and residents ended up getting moved. We dont want this to happen to us.

  2. Exactlyt Fulton house’s. Where the majority of tenants are old suffer with severe medical issues.Where would they placed during reconstruction? For new tenants as of . June 2021 why would they need repairs ?iAlso they need to specify what this program really means? They also don’t specify whether our electricity will be paid separately. They are rumors here in Fulton houses. That they will implement curfews and your visitors will also have curfews or they will be (at your door )and force them to leave at curfew time . or call the cops. )we don’t want that kind of drama!!!!! When this program was proposed to me from an employee here at Fulton houses. I asked her what were the other options if a tenant refuses to sign over to the new program”.(her response in high pitch was” well they can just move” -In my opinion there was a lot of gaslighting during this conversation ,it sounded like they were a sales person’s in a the store trying hard to convince me to sign over.
    As I said earlier majority of tenants in Fulton houses are either severely sick or or have some sort of mental illness .I have been living here over 30 years plus .What is really happening here?A lot of these tenants also don’t have support systems in place-family friends etc -will they taking advantage of ??????This in development for those reasons? or because of the location or the where wealthy surrounds the area? We feel The wealthy that live surrounding this area Chelsea Manhattan-don’t like the fact that there is a public housing development smack dead in the middle with the best views an water front views in the best neighborhood/area of Manhattan! Furthermore why is it only certain developments? why not all NYCHA developments? everybody deserves a decent place to live .Why are they picking an choosing certain developments ?If this plan wasn’t about money and Real estate Equity- location. Then why are they forcing tenants they say you have a choice but the only option is for you to leave. especially-As a new tenants coming into Fulton houses 2021 who wont need your repairs in their apartments . It would be newly renovated already ,so there’s no need for new tenants to sign over their Subsidize NYCHA housing to your section 8 program !or will they be forced out to !!! another rumor is that if their new program will downsize your apartment- Speculating that this means( if you’re a single person in a one bedroom. they will try to downsize you to the studio )some of these tenants are disabled where they need room to move around with their wheelchairs etc. -where will they plan to do relocate These tenants exactly-or for the new tenants who don’t want or need repairs. over to their Section8 private program ? What does private program mean -?????????? But for tenants who are just moved this year 2021 this would be truly unfair .( The most disgusting part about all of this in this particular development .(Robert Fulton houses) they are offering tenants for offering section 8) when already a vast majority of tenants already have Housing Section8 currently in Fulton houses-. I Speculate that it will be easy for them to take advantage of this particular development With these tricks .)hopefully they come in with a more fair proposal(right now there seems to be a lot of manipulation and miss information.

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