NYCHA left in the cold again (photo: Governor’s Office)
As the Democratic-led federal government moves toward passing another massive spending package, billions of dollars in much-needed funding to fix crumbling public housing, particularly at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA ), were again left out.
The US Senate on Sunday passed the Cut Inflation Act, a major spending bill that will invest hundreds of billions in climate action and clean energy, cut health care costs and increase taxes, thereby reducing the overall federal deficit. But the bill excluded public housing investments that were previously included in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better proposal, of which the Cut Inflation Act is seen by some as a slimmed-down version.
The inflation-cutting bill passed the Senate in a party-line vote, with every Democrat voting for and every Republican voting against, and is also expected to pass the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. this week. It is being hailed by many, especially climate activists, as a massive win for the country and by many pundits as politically advantageous for Democrats ahead of this fall’s congressional elections and the 2024 presidential race. The package includes hundreds of billions of dollars in funding, all matched by other parts of the plan, largely aimed at transitioning from fossil fuels to greener renewables.
The legislation emerged from an agreement between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, with changes then insisted by Sen. Krysten Sinema of Arizona. Manchin and Sinema have been major obstacles to passing more of the comprehensive build-back-better agenda in the Senate, with concerns over overall spending, the national debt and inflation.
Although the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better proposal passed the House of Representatives, it stalled in the Senate. Had it succeeded, it would have been a boon for public housing entities like NYCHA, which have seen decades of federal divestment. It included up to $170 billion for housing, including $65 billion for public housing across the country.
In September of last year, Schumer argued for a major federal investment in public housing. “There is an ongoing humanitarian crisis in New York’s public housing estates,” he wrote in a City & State op-ed. “Due to decades of divestment, many New York City Housing Authority properties have fallen into such disrepair that the only solution is through big, bold and transformative action by the federal government.”
NYCHA has struggled for years due to a lack of funding and although its operational finances have been improved by former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, it still has a capital backlog of approximately $40 billion. in necessary maintenance and repairs. Much of the city’s social housing is collapsing around its roughly half a million residents in the five boroughs, with endemic problems relating to basic structural damage to the exterior and interior, roofs leaking, mold, broken doors and elevators, faulty heating systems, etc.
U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez, a Democrat from Brooklyn, also acknowledged NYCHA’s needs when she voted for the Build Back Better Act in November.
“[F]Federal divestment from public housing has forced many public housing residents across the country to live in increasingly poor living conditions. In my hometown of New York, residents suffer from a constant lack of hot water, insufficient heating during the winter months, rodent and insect infestations, broken elevators, and widespread and recurring lead and mold problems,” she said. “This legislation includes the largest one-time investment ever in HUD’s Public Housing Capital Fund, which will go a long way toward eliminating the backlog of repairs nationwide.”
Velazquez tabled a bill in early 2021, the Public Housing Emergency Response Act, which would allocate $70 billion in public housing funding across the country for physical repairs and improvements through this capital fund, including $32 billion for NYCHA. But, it did not budge, nor was it incorporated into a package capable of passing through both houses of Congress.
While city and state officials have taken steps to generate billions in capital repair revenue and get repairs done in some public housing estates, the need far exceeds what has been done so far. , and few see a real solution without the federal government stepping in. with at least tens of billions of dollars in direct funding.
In this year’s $101 billion New York City budget, Mayor Eric Adams committed about $5 billion in additional funding to affordable housing over ten years, for a total housing program of $22 billion. which includes dedicated equity funding to NYCHA – approximately $1 billion per year. Adams previously pledged to invest up to $4 billion a year in affordable housing, including $1.5 billion for NYCHA, but did not follow through.
Adams has repeatedly asked the federal government for more help for NYCHA. In May, speaking at a press conference in favor of state legislation to create the NYCHA Preservation Trust which was later adopted to help the authority raise more money for major repairs, Adams said: “One thing is clear, we have to stop playing with this. . We are not receiving any money from the federal government this year. They are not. They’ve already told us, “We’re not concerned with NYCHA residents. They didn’t pass the $35 billion we needed, so we have to do it ourselves. Here’s one way to do it, the Trust. Let’s get the Trust adopted.
A spokesperson for Adams declined to comment for this article.
In June, the state Legislature passed this bill, creating the New York City Public Housing Preservation Trust which would then convert up to 25,000 NYCHA units, out of a total of 176,000, into federal housing units in the city. Section 8 eligible for federal housing bonds worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Crucially, the trust will also be able to issue bonds to raise additional billions for repairs and maintenance.
Elected officials and advocates have expressed disappointment that Congress may yet again fail to provide desperately needed funds that could help the more than 535,000 New Yorkers, mostly low-income people of color, who call NYCHA home.
City council member Alexa Avilés, who chairs the public housing commission, praised Congress for addressing climate change in the IRA, but criticized the failure to fund housing. “Reconciliation has offered a golden opportunity to fight for investment in housing and public housing… But the need is not going anywhere,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, the US Senate – Joe Manchin and Kristen Sinema especially – owes public housing residents the full $65 billion.”
“It is beyond disappointing that Congress has once again ignored public housing,” Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Conference, said in an email. “Even with the adoption of the Preservation Trust, NYCHA can use federal resources to make immediate repairs that will improve living conditions for residents and make buildings greener.”
“NYCHA funding was not expected to be included in the Cut Inflation Act,” said Jeffrey Maclin, spokesperson for the Community Service Society of New York, a nonprofit group. lucrative. “However, if there was a silver lining to the failure of Build Back Better – which proposed investing billions to restore NYCHA’s infrastructure – it was the recognition that we cannot rely on Washington alone to Save NYCHA This helped spur the state’s creation of the NYCHA Preservation Trust, which represents a comprehensive strategy for the preservation of our public housing in New York City.
Note – this article has been updated.