For years, the New York City Housing Authority has provided New York City with its single largest and most critical allotment of low-income affordable housing. These buildings and homes, interwoven in neighborhoods throughout all five boroughs, comprise more than 176,000 units, and house nearly half a million residents. NYCHA buildings serve a greater number of people than the combined populations of Syracuse and Rochester.
Its not a secret that NYCHA housing is old, extremely distressed and in need of extensive repairs. If youve been paying attention to the news youve likely seen headlines about entire buildings without heat, collapsed ceilings, maintenance backlogs and more. Its clear that NYCHA has long been in dire need of resources and it hasn’t been getting them.
Sadly, weve all watched over the years as Congress has starved NYCHA and every public housing authority in the nation to death by methodically stripping HUDs budget. Since 2001, these budget cuts have robbed NYCHA of $3 billion, digging it into an ever-deepening deficit. The Presidents proposal last year to slash HUDs budget by another $7 billion, is a blunt reminder of the low priority public housing has in this administration.
Consider the message received: The federal government is abandoning its responsibility to our nations public housing, so, fairly or not, its time for New York City to take the next step and truly own the problems at NYCHA.
The city should immediately increase its capital commitment to NYCHA to $250 million per year over 10 years.
With NYCHA estimating that the costs to cover its unmet capital needs exceed $25 billion, a $250 million per year commitment is a realistic starting place. It would be an infusion of up-front capital that allows NYCHA to begin to preserve, upgrade and maintain its affordable housing stock and serve its residents.
As a city, we often lament the loss of rent-stabilized housing to the private market. For decades, this has driven our leaders to invest billions in housing plans that have produced hundreds of thousands of affordable units. Continuing this trend, Mayor de Blasio recently increased his Housing New York Plan from 200,000 up to 300,000 units, bringing the citys investment to $1.3 billion per year to fund the updated plan.
While the mayor deserves to be lauded for committing a historic amount of resources to the affordability crisis, it forces the question: Why arent resources on that level being dedicated to preserving NYCHAs affordable housing? There is no more important piece of our citys affordable housing stock to preserve.
Its time for the city to either more fully integrate NYCHA into its housing plan, or ensure that this massive, existing and occupied source of affordable housing gets an appropriate parallel commitment of capital, and other revenue or resources.
Last year, the mayor proposed a luxury tax on condominium units over $2 million that would generate an estimated $336 million in revenue annually to fund affordable housing. Now is the time for the city and state to pass such a tax and dedicate its annual revenue to NYCHA.
A 10-year investment of $250 million per year plus revenue from a condo luxury tax would be a strong shot in the arm to the tune of nearly $600 million per year over a decade. After the initial 10-year capital investment ends, the luxury tax would ensure that NYCHA has a dedicated funding stream to address its most pressing needs.
Many will say our state leaders will never vote for a tax hike. They should look to the example set by Los Angeles and its citizenry who last year voted twice to increase taxes to deal with their most pressing housing and humanitarian challenge, street homelessness.
Look past the headlines and youll see real progress. The mayor has committed to more than $2 billion to address urgent capital needs, including a recent $200 million to replace boilers and NYCHAs leadership has done strong work implementing Next Generation, its 10-year plan to protect and preserve its housing stock.
Under Next Generation, they have motivated an agency historically slow to accept change, found new revenue streams, and are tackling their operational shortcomings. This has led to improvements in technology and infrastructure, better and faster repairs, and a decrease in crime.
Instead of providing funding Band-Aids after each crisis or problem, imagine the progress that would come with a significant and sustained infusion of city capital and political will. If funding NYCHA is made a top priority, we know that the mayors housing team has the talent and resourcefulness to make it work.
Do we have the fortitude to create a new revenue stream by creating a new targeted tax, as well as committing to $250 million a year in capital to help solve this problem?
A better question: Can we afford to let NYCHA this city within a city that is home to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet fail?
Cestero is president and CEO of the Community Preservation Corp., a nonprofit affordable housing finance company, and former commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.