Eviction records for two large NYCHA developments converted to private management under the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program show a higher eviction rate compared to the system average, Human Rights Watch found.
New York City’s five-year-old plan to turn public housing over to private management has eroded tenant protections and may be driving an increase in evictions, according to a report published Thursday by a leading watchdog group.
Eviction records for two large NYCHA developments converted to private management under the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program show a higher eviction rate compared to the system average, Human Rights Watch found. The analysis, based on a review of six complexes converted between 2016 and 2020, follows previous City Limits reporting on the rise in evictions at the Ocean Bay Houses in Queens, the first development to undergo PACT conversion.
“PACT was supposed to make up for the funding shortfall to improve buildings, but it has entailed insufficient oversight and the loss of key protections for tenants’ rights, and, in two cases, we found that the program was tied to increased evictions,” said Jackson Gandour, business and human rights fellow at Human Rights Watch.
Starting in December 2016, NYCHA began leasing its developments to for-profit management companies and converting tenant rental subsidies from Section 9, a public housing designation, to Section 8 under the PACT model, a local version of the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) policy. Plan supporters say the conversions are the fastest way to unlock financing for desperately-needed repairs and maintenance across the sprawling system, home to roughly 360,000 people, according to official figures. The actual population, which includes “unauthorized” residents sharing space with leaseholders, is much larger.
With problems mounting—including a lead paint crisis endangering small children—NYCHA repairs estimated to cost roughly $30 billion and a federal monitor assigned to oversee repairs and administration, former Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed converting a third of NYCHA’s housing stock, about 62,000 units, to PACT.
The policy has remained controversial among NYCHA tenants, but the conversions have continued apace, affecting more than 9,500 units with more than 20,000 authorized tenants in, NYCHA data from 2021 shows.
Last year, Westside Urban Renewal Tenants Association President Cynthia Tibbs told City Limits she was concerned about the risk of eviction from private property managers. She said tenants in the nearby Wise Towers had seen no improvements to their homes under the new arrangement.
“The management company talks to them like they’re less than human. The on-site super is never anywhere to be found,” she said.
The Human Rights Watch report hones in on the impact at the Ocean Bay Houses, a large complex in Arverne with 1,393 apartments and about 3,700 residents. NYCHA leased Ocean Bay to the developer MDG and management company Wavecrest in 2017. The companies formed the joint venture RDC Development LLC.
Human Rights Watch found that RDC Development evicted 50 households from Ocean Bay between January 2017 and August 2019, with an annual eviction rate of 1.4 percent in 2017, and 1.1 percent in 2018 and 2019. That rate far outpaced the NYCHA average of 0.3 percent evictions over that time period, the report found.
The report’s researchers also said the conversions erode tenants’ rights by taking buildings out of the purview of a federal monitor. But the full impact of the PACT conversions, they added, are difficult to assess because a statewide eviction moratorium took effect before thousands of apartments were turned over to private companies.
The report’s authors urged the federal government to step up funding for Section 9 public housing to address problems at NYCHA facilities, and called on New York City and state to send more cash to the ailing system.
They also advised NYCHA to extend federal monitor oversight to the privately converted developments and to establish eviction-prevention plans.
NYCHA disputed the findings of the Human Rights Watch report in a statement Thursday.
“Despite NYCHA’s transparency and cooperation with Human Rights Watch over several months, this ‘report’ contains numerous unsubstantiated claims and fabrications about the Authority’s PACT program,” said NYCHA spokesperson Barbara Brancaccio.
“We agree conditions at NYCHA developments are the consequence of long-term federal disinvestment, and we will continue to use PACT and other innovative strategies to raise capital, make improvements and protect tenant rights and protections,” she added. “NYCHA is committed to continuously improving PACT by including residents in decisions, and working with PACT partners to prevent displacement, improve engagement and strengthen oversight.”
NYCHA tenants owed $241 million in arrears as of June 30, 2021, the agency said last year. That sum includes $124 million accrued since March 2020. NYCHA has not received any funding from the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), however, a spokesperson told City Limits earlier this month. The state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance said public housing authorities will receive ERAP funding only after all private applicants are paid out. About 85,000 applicants have yet to receive payment from the tapped-out fund, making NYCHA reimbursement unlikely without a massive cash infusion from the federal government.
A NYCHA spokesperson said the agency will only pursue eviction for non-payment when “the rent due is extremely high” and will not seek to evict households headed by an older adult in most cases.
Residents of PACT developers had to apply for ERAP with the cooperation of their management companies, rather than the public housing authority.
Some public housing advocates and state lawmakers have backed a NYCHA proposal known as Blueprint for Change, which would transfer 110,000 apartments to a proposed Public Housing Preservation Trust and speed up repairs. Like the RAD conversion, the Preservation Trust would switch the tenant subsidies from Section 9 to Section 8, but the plan would cut out the private developers and management companies.
“The Trust is the first plan that I have seen that both protects tenant’s rights and invests in our housing,” said Isaacs Houses Resident Association President Rose Bergin in a statement last year. “For too long residents have had to endure repair backlogs and a lack of services. The Trust offers us a real solution to a problem that we have been dealing with for many years.”
Still, other tenants remain skeptical of any changes to their subsidies or to their public housing designation after generations of NYCHA disinvestment.
“They’re trying to ram this through, because they have the resources behind them and the support of some of the political establishment,” Citywide Council of Presidents (CCOP) senior member Reginald Bowman told New York Focus and Gotham Gazette last year. “They’re not listening to the legitimate resident government.”