On Jan. 31st, the coldest day of the year to date, 10,000 residents of the New York City Public Housing Authority were left to freeze without heat or hot water as temperatures dropped to -12 degrees Fahrenheit. Over 11,000 NYCHA apartment units were found to be contaminated with lead as of April 2019. Just within a two-month period last year, court documents revealed that 58,000 apartments had toxic mold problems that were reported multiple times by residents. Numerous federal housing violations like lead hazards, repair scams, broken elevators, leaky water pipes and busted heaters in NYCHA apartments have persisted for the last 10 years.
Yet, even as all these potentially-deadly public health hazards endanger thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers, only 3.7% of New York City’s $95 billion budget is allotted for housing. Instead of allotting the billions of dollars in resources and funding in the budget which are necessary for fixing these urgent problems, the city is making deals to privatize its public housing, putting 15,000 low-income tenants under threat of eviction.
The Rental Assistance Demonstration is an Obama-era government housing program that Mayor Bill de Blasio is using to establish a private-public partnership between NYCHA and private real estate development corporations. Currently over 30% of NYCHA apartment units are being transferred to private operators through RAD over the next eight years.
The RAD program has already been tried, tested and proven to be a disaster for tenants in other states across the country, where it violated multiple federal laws and regulations. In Virginia, for example, residents faced with RAD conversion were subjected to unlawful threats of eviction and discrimination for their disability status. RAD conversions raise the risk of these threats against tenants who depend on low-cost housing for their very survival.
As the city tries to put public housing in the hands of private landlords, the actual tenants amount to no more than an afterthought, even as they are being forced into unsafe conditions. Housing insecurity in New York City is already disproportionately high, with 20,000 evictions and 3,000 foreclosures occurring annually. If NYCHA is privatized, tenants could face eviction, higher rents and reduced oversight. As public housing falls under private management, the only potential oversight on RAD conversions is the federal government’s Housing and Urban Development Department. Although issues arose with RAD under the Obama administration, the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that federal oversight is being reduced even further under Trump, making “communication with residents … abysmal.”
Even as NYCHA is being handed over to private developers with de Blasio’s promise to improve conditions, NYCHA residents continue to be put in dangerous conditions. This past Tuesday, 12,000 residents went without water and heat in the middle of February. For those same units, the Fulton Houses, the city is planning RAD conversions.
What NYCHA desperately needs is billions of dollars in funding in the state budget specifically devoted to fixing public housing units and giving residents the protections that are long overdue. Organizations like Fight For NYCHA and The Legal Aid Society have organized and represented NYCHA tenants in court and enlisted city council members, and have held demonstrations and town halls trying to achieve this. They have also enlisted the help of New York City council members and legislators to secure funding from New York state and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Every day that tenants continue to live with mold and go without heat and water, all while threatened with eviction, is another day of injustice. NYCHA tenants deserved legitimate change years ago. The time for the government’s empty promises, half-solutions and shirking responsibility is long over.
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A version of this article appears in the Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, print edition. Email Asha Ramachandran at [email protected]