The Vultures Are Circling NYCHA | The Indypendent


Decades of disinvestment have devastated NYC’s public housing. And now the private sector is ready to cash in. All this stuff in here only shows up if you DON’T have any widgets active in this zone

As temperatures plummeted into the single digits on Martin Luther King Day weekend, there was no heat in Karen Leader’s apartment.

“We are taxpayers, we fought in the wars, we are veterans, working-class people,” said Leader, a tenant activist who has lived in the Cooper Park Houses in East Williamsburg for over 30 years. “Why are you treating us like we don’t matter, regardless of how much rent we pay?”

A loss of just 10% of NYCHA’s units would force 40,000 New Yorkers to scramble for housing in a city where it’s scarce.

NYCHA has served an important function in providing affordable housing since it was founded in 1934. The agency, which has received the bulk of its funding from the federal government since the Carter administration, weathered severe budget cuts in the Reagan years. In the late 1990s, then-governor George Pataki halted operating subsidies from the state, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg later cut off the city’s contribution.

The city has upped its contributions, but it still allocated $143 million to NYCHA in fiscal year 2019, just 0.2 percent of the city budget.

RAD and infill are responses to “policy-generated disasters,” says Bloom. “These things are necessary only because certain other things weren’t done, and people refuse to do them — that is, to fully fund public housing. These are more or less the only solutions that are out there, but again, they are solutions to a problem that was generated by public policy positions.”

Another uncharted aspect of RAD is the fate of NYCHA’s unionized workforce. At least one construction industry group has publicly called for RAD and infill to be done without union labor.

Josh Barnett, president of District Council 37 Local 375 — which represents city architects, engineers, and urban planners — and an employee in NYCHA’s capital projects division, worries that RAD will function as a “union-busting tactic: “There’s nothing in there [federal or city regulations] that requires any worker who does work at one of the privatized developments to be either civil service or union, which is really kind of scary.”

The Payoff

The question remains, what’s in it for developers? “If NYCHA housing is so terrible,” Bloom asks, “then why are private developers interested in it?”

Affordable housing is now a multibillion-dollar growth industry, replete with publicly traded firms, lobbyists, trade associations, journals and conferences. The potential for profit has led to a dynamic where the same developers that created the conditions of displacement in New York City can be awarded lucrative contracts for public housing.

Developers benefit from the management of public housing through the collection of various fees and rents. Then there’s the Low Income Housing Tax Credits, or LIHTCs – i.e. public subsidies.

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