April 22, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—Five mayoral hopefuls presented their vision of public housing policy as the next mayor of New York City at a mayoral forum yesterday morning. The largest housing authority in the country, the New York City Housing Authority, is facing a severe structural deficit, billions worth of backlogged work and private development on public property. Watch Video
The mayorals suggested going to Washington to get additional funds from the feds and halt NYCHA payments to the City for policing and sanitation services.
The forum was organized by the Community Service Society and Teamsters Local 237 (nearly 9,000 Local 237 members work for NYCHA and one-third reside in NYCHA facilities). Greg Floyd, President of Local 237, said that affordable public housing in the City is in crisis.
“Public housing went from a well-respected, shiny example of civic responsibility that received national acclaim to a mismanaged, inept housing authority,” Floyd said.
Indeed, the City lost more than 194,000 affordable rental housing units between 2002 and 2008. Also, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported recently that 60 percent of all renters in the City cannot afford the Federal fair market rent for a typical two-bedroom apartment.
“In New York, the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,283. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities—without paying more than 30 percent of income on housing—a household must earn $4,278 monthly or $51,337 annually.”
Michael Powell, columnist for the New York Times, moderated the event and first asked the mayorals about their vision for public housing. Some said they would restructure the board to comprise NYCHA residents, others said they would bring back on line thousands of units that have been removed off the market by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration and all said they would halt $70 million in annual NYCHA payments to the City to pay for police and sanitation services.
They all agreed they would stop the proposed Bloomberg plan, the Infill Program, to lease NYCHA land for private development. The Mayor claims that NYCHA’s current $6 billion in unmet capital needs will increase to $13.4 billion over the next five years.
“Infill, which has the potential to generate more than $500 million of capital funding, is one of the most important tools we have to help confront the funding challenges NYCHA faces,” said Bloomberg last month.
But the mayorals contested that claim.
Former comptroller Bill Thompson said he would stop the program.
“We should not be using this land for luxury housing, but for affordable, moderate, and middle income housing so those who live here can afford to stay here. We should say ‘No’ to this proposal,” Thompson said.
Former City Council member Sal Albanese said he’s very skeptical of the plan, while Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said he’s opposed to the Infill Program.
Comptroller John Liu also is opposed and said NYCHA’s capital needs can be fulfilled from other sources, such as Marriot Hotel ponying up money that matches fair market value for its Times Square property.
“We should reopen the contract with Marriot because they have breached certain provisions of their contract. We believe that Marriott should pay us back $344.5 million—that’s one place you can get money right away,” said Liu.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the plan to lease NYCHA property to private developers is a terrible idea.
“It’s an idea, if it moves forward, as Mayor I would stop it.”
Mr. Powell then asked how money could be raised for NYCHA capital needs if the mayorals don’t support market rate housing atop public property.
Mr. Thompson said, unlike luxury housing that yields revenue from leasing land, his plan would yield revenue from building housing.
“When you build moderate and middle-income housing, it generates revenue. That revenue goes back into the system, goes back to paying for other housing within the housing authority. It’s a better idea to generate revenue,” said Thompson.
Liu noted the $15 billion in new revenues he identified in “The People’s Budget” could be used, while Quinn said she would aggressively seek additional funding from the feds.
LaborPress asked Mr. Floyd of his reaction to the mayorals’ public housing vision to keep NYCHA sustainable.
“The step in the right direction was to cancel the bill that the City gives to NYCHA—that certainly will go a long way to keep NYCHA sustainable, and I heard from every candidate that was going to happen,” said Floyd.
Asked whether he preferred one candidate’s vision or plan over another, he said, “No one really laid out a clear plan, but they all agreed they would work to have NYCHA reduce payments to the sanitation and police departments.”
Follow Marc Bussanich on Twitter email@example.com