Chelsea Residents Resist Public Housing Privatization at Town Hall

Residents and activists in Chelsea hosted a town hall discussing how to prevent NYCHA properties from being privatized.

NYCHA met with the current Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins to talk about housing (Staff Photo via Matthew Fischetti)

More than 30 Chelsea community members and activists sat in the auditorium of New York Public School 33 on Tuesday to attend the second Fight for NYCHA town hall. 

Fight for NYCHA is an activist group founded to prevent the privatization of public housing in New York City due to an Obama-era Housing and Urban Development program called Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD). In addition to discussing policy proposals and strategy, the town hall featured speeches from Democratic congressional candidate Lindsey Boylan and Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins. 

The RAD program — which is supported by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio — establishes private-public partnerships to fill budget shortages for public housing across the nation. New NYCHA chairman and CEO Gregory Russ recently stated that in order to fix the chronic problems of the department it would need an additional $40 billion in funding, or around $100,000 worth of repairs per resident. The repairs would cover issues ranging from broken elevators to rat infestations.

“Public housing is really the only viable affordable housing left in the country,” Robert Rodriguez, a resident of the Fulton Houses complex, said. “We shouldn’t kid ourselves. The whole American dream thing is basically there because you have to be asleep to believe it — to quote Carlin.” 

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In 2018, NYCHA admitted that it was violating multiple federal housing regulations. It has made few changes since then.

A recent report from city inspectors found lead in over 11,000 NYCHA apartments, while 100,000 have remained untested. Pomonok Houses, NYCHA’s largest complex, has received a record number of complaints in the past year, as reported by the Queens Chronicle.

“What we have done is adopt a series of policies which fail to fund and support public housing,” Michael Sussman, a lawyer for the group as well as the former Green Party nominee for NYS Attorney General, said. “The result of that is NYCHA being in the condition that it is.” 

Lindsey Boylan — a primary challenger to the representative for New York’s 10th congressional district, Jerrold Nadler — has made treating housing as a human right a central plank of her campaign, and underscored the importance of public housing in a district with high amounts of economic inequality. 

“We don’t have to say [that] any … real estate programs part of the RAD Program are bad to know that someone is going to get short changed,” Boylan said.

While Boylan focused on federal funding, Fight for NYCHA’s People’s Budget seeks to fund NYCHA primarily through New York State and City funding. Proposals include reallocating the $10 billion set for building jails to replace Rikers Island and the repeal of Cooperative and Condominium Tax Abatement for the top 10% of earners. 

“What we keep hearing is that the disaster that NYCHA tenants face is worse than what the mayor keeps letting on,” co-founder of Fight for NYCHA Louis Flores said.

Among Flores’ concerns about privatization are stricter landlords, increased evictions, higher rents and less oversight of the already-blighted housing complexes. 

At the town hall, Flores projected a screenshot of a handbook created by the Legal Aid Society, which states that tenants would have to accept leases for RAD converted apartments, regardless of their conditions.

One member of the town hall asked about Fight for NYCHA’s next steps to prevent RAD conversion.

“Right now, we’re at the point that if we want to win, we have to engage in direct action,” Flores said in response. “And that means protesting in the streets.”

Email Matthew Fischetti at [email protected]

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