Public housing

‘I’m scared’: Thousands of New York public housing units are behind on rent

“We want to make sure we pursue evictions as a last resort,” NYCHA general counsel Lisa Bova-Hiatt said in an interview.

Still, NYCHA will have to deal with rent arrears racked up during the pandemic, raising fears among tenants and housing advocates that it may finally begin to take a tougher line.

“All residents can really do is rely on the good faith of NYCHA to consider the cases they bring,” said Lucy Newman, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society.

New York’s public housing system is the largest in the country. Its official population of approximately 350,000 is greater than that of the cities of Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Orlando.

And it’s home to many of the lowest-income New Yorkers. The median NYCHA household earns $16,956 a year, compared to the median in New York City, which is $64,000. NYCHA’s median monthly rent, which is typically capped at 30% of a tenant’s income, is $389, about 73% less than the city median.

There is huge demand for a NYCHA home: more than 250,000 applicants are on a waiting list, according to the agency.

And the economic pain of the pandemic has fallen much harder on the less well-off.

Because NYCHA rents are based on tenant income, many people seek to avoid falling behind by reporting financial hardship, such as job loss, and asking for a rent reduction. In 2019, before the pandemic, NYCHA received just over 17,000 applications from such tenants. This figure has increased to more than 37,000 in 2020 and to more than 23,000 last year.