Public housing

NYCHA’s ‘Public Housing Preservation Trust’ is a Resident Engagement Prank

“This year alone, public budgets have allocated billions of dollars in federal spending on overseas military intervention, the state subsidy for a billionaire’s football stadium in Buffalo, and even more $1 billion in municipal funding for PACT conversions of public housing to private management. enterprises rather than for public housing itself.

Adi Talwar

NYCHA’s Gun Hill Houses, home to 1,450 people.

On Monday, May 23, two competing visions of public housing and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) were exposed. At the NYCHA Polo Grounds Towers community in Harlem, housing authority officials alongside Mayor Eric Adams and other local elected officials held a press conference advocating for passage of proposed Public Housing Preservation Trust legislation in Albany.

Throughout the nearly hour-long press conference, officials consistently touted residents’ commitment and support for the Trust, although only two tenant association presidents were chosen to represent residents of the social housing, each reading prepared statements. While speakers at the press conference repeatedly peddled the idea that the Trust would finally be able to fund the housing authority’s long-awaited repair and maintenance needs, there were few details on exactly how it would happen. The word “debt” for example – the main motivating factor behind the establishment of the Trust and the planned funding mechanism to raise money for reparations – was mentioned only once, and only in a brief response to the question of a journalist towards the end of the conference.

The Trust was first introduced in 2020 as part of NYCHA’s Blueprint for Change and heavily promoted at the start of the disproportionately devastating COVID-19 pandemic HLM residents. The proposal is now in its third iteration after Fierce and Steadfast resident opposition due to the bill’s reliance on debt financing mechanisms for reparations that would prioritize creditors and debt servicing over the needs of residents and the community, would open up the possibility of foreclosure and ultimately dismantle the real public housing in Section 9 of the city.

Despite these glaring concerns and continued opposition from residents, the bill – which Governor Kathy Hochul signed in force last week— has received a new round of support from NYCHA, elected officials, and even a slew of nonprofits and housing advocacy groups, largely on the basis of a new amendment with the promise of an opt-in provision. Like the vague promises of reparations funds flowing through the Trust, speakers at the press conference and endorsements of the bill by elected officials, repeated NYCHA’s line on the opt-in, saying it this was an empowering democratic choice to enter the Trust. on resident votes by campus.

The optics around the opt-in proved compelling, leading self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist State Senator Julia Salazar to sponsor the bill’s reintroduction in the Senate at the last hour, and despite resistance obvious to residents.

The language of the bill, however, falls away to establish real resident decision-making, or even to ensure a representative voting process. The bill makes no mention of the details behind a resident vote, the minimum turnout needed for a quorum, or the education and information needed for residents to make an informed decision; it leaves standards development to NYCHA. By NYCHA’s own admission, previous resident voting processes have hovered around a 10% turnout, signaling that any random voting procedure will be far from representative.*

All told, that makes the much-celebrated opt-in amendment little more than a call to improve the plan’s already blemished optics. That the bill was recently reintroduced in the Senate despite these glaring problems is indicative of the inherently flawed and superficial resident engagement process in the legislation, and the public relations campaign to support it.

But even if the bill offered a truly democratic resident vote before a community entered the Trust model, the choice currently presented to residents would still pose a false dichotomy. Pro-Trust elected officials at every level of government have placed the future of public housing at a crossroads between either embracing privatization through the Trust (or for some RAD/PACT communities) or maintaining an increasingly poor status quo substandard living conditions .

READ MORE: What is RAD and what does it mean for the future of NYCHA?

This creates a coercive choice for residents who have been denied any opportunity to improve their living conditions outside of acquiescing to a privatization program. Asking residents to choose between accepting an ambitious plan or continuing to face substandard (and sometimes deadly) living conditions due to government inaction is no choice at all.

Real resident leaders, social housing tenants and organizers, however, see a third way: to fund social housing entirely with public funds. While elected officials have preferred to deflect government funding responsibility for NYCHA from city, to state, to federal budgets, in truth each level has been guilty of the decades-long disinvestment in public housing communities. This year alone, public budgets have allocated billions of dollars in federal spending on overseas military intervention, the state subsidy for a billionaire’s football stadium in Buffalo, and even more than a billion in municipal funding for PACT conversions of public housing to private management companies. rather than for public housing itself.

Public housing residents across the city have been clear and resolute in their opposition to the trust bill since it was proposed, prompting the legislation to be amended several times before this recent third round of revisions and its new membership provision. Over the past three years, opposition to the Trust has not waned, only increased. On the same day as the NYCHA press conference, residents and organizers alongside a few elected officials held their own rally outside City Hall, where resident leaders and social housing tenants in every borough called for an immediate halt to trust legislation and an increased flow of public funds into the housing authority.

Unlike NYCHA and trust law, the message from residents has been clear and consistent: fully fund NYCHA and save real public housing in New York City.

Marquis Jenkins is a longtime resident of NYCHA’s Bracetti Plaza and founding member of Residents to Preserve Public Housing (RPPH). James Rodriguez, Ph.D. is a longtime resident of NYCHA’s Rutgers Houses and Adjunct Professor of Urban Studies at City University of New York. Aixa Torres is president of the Alfred E. Smith Residents Association of NYCHA and a member of the Council of City Presidents (CCOP) of NYCHA.

*Editor’s Note: This line was updated post-publication to more accurately reflect specific language included in the final version of the legislation.