USA, New York: The slow death of public housing

New York City’s public housing is slowly sinking into decrepitude as its oldest developments creakily approach 80 years in age. It’s long past time to set ideology aside to fund vital repairs — and to think about a future without public housing.

Nearly half the New York City Housing Authority’s properties won “troubled” or “low-performing” ratings in the most recent federal inspections.

According to the city Independent Budget Office, 10 percent of NYCHA developments received inspection scores below 60 to fall in the “troubled” category. And only 9 percent rated “high-performing,” with scores of 90 or above.

The IBO found that just 20,000 of NYCHA’s 400,000 residents live in “high-performing” projects. Three times as many live in “troubled” ones.

Indeed, the budget office noted that the lower-scoring projects were mostly the larger, older ones. That raises the troubling prospect that lots more NYCHA housing is headed into crisis as it ages.

The agency is the nation’s largest public-housing authority — and the city’s largest slumlord. NYCHA residents regularly complain of mold, unlit halls and stairs and the lack of heat, hot water and cooking gas. The average public-housing elevator is out of service on a monthly basis.

The rent rolls simply don’t support maintenance needs, leaving NYCHA regularly on the edge of insolvency. And, thanks to decades of deferred maintenance, it faces a capital-repair backlog of $17 billion.

Imagine what that could grow to when the time comes that large developments have to be replaced. They weren’t built to last forever, after all. When close to 50 percent of your housing stock is in substandard shape, it’s time to question your business model.

Public housing in New York was created in 1934 to be a way station for the “deserving poor” striving to join the middle class. Today, except for the lucky few who live in those “high-performing” projects, it’s the housing of last resort.

In the short term, one obvious fix is to sell off unused NYCHA-owned land to fund major repairs in existing properties. But ideologues keep vetoing that move — because they refuse to accept the simple fact that NYCHA will never have the cash to build on those sites.

This, when even a stalwart progressive like Mayor Bill de Blasio doesn’t propose building new public-housing projects. His affordable-housing plans all turn on various ways to get the private sector to provide new units.

And that’s not just because it costs the taxpayers less. Experience has simply shown that government does a terrible job as a landlord, and not just by stinting on maintenance.

The clear truth is that time will inevitably spell the end of all current NYCHA properties — with no hope that new ones will replace them. A rational city would face those facts, while providing safe, clean and decent housing to residents in the meantime.

Published by: New York Post (19 February 2017)
Written by: Post Editorial Board

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