The city that never sleeps may become the city where the poor can’t afford a place to sleep. While New Yorkers are used to battling astronomical housing costs and wedging themselves into closet-sized studios, hundreds of thousands of working-class residents have somewhere to call home thanks to the city’s public housing system. But now that already faulty system is facing a new assault from real estate developers.
In late July, New Yorkers from low and modest-income neighborhoods gathered at Pace University in Lower Manhattan to air their grievances against the city’s public housing authority, NYCHA.
Displaying signs proclaiming “Housing is a Human Right” and “Save Meltzer Park,” many in the crowd came to speak out about day-to-day struggles like rising rents and deteriorating buildings. But the focal point of the protests was the city’sproposal to lease 14 parcels of NYCHA land, scattered on eight housing complexes across the city, to private developers. Many housing activists fear the plan would pave the way for even more assaults on the city’s embattled public housing system and enable real estate financiers to consume more and more public-owned and community-oriented spaces.
Rose Clifton, who is pushing 80 and serves as Resident Association President of Brooklyn’s Park Rock development, came to the protests to voice frustration with inadequate funding and neglected repair needs, like mold and floods, in addition to an overall sense that the city was neglecting poor tenants even as they struggle with the rising rents. Unlike the city’s unregulated private rental market, NYCHA housing is largely geared toward lower-income households, with rents set according to residents’ ability to pay (based on a federal formula that adjusts costs around a threshold of about 30 percent of income). But Clifton said even with government support, housing costs still put a squeeze on tenants.
Under NYCHA’s rent rates, Clifton said, “The more money you make, the more they take. There’s people in there paying $1,000… [This] housing used to be for low-rent people.”
Still, despite Clifton’s sense that costs are rising above what her neighbors can afford, the city’s public housing system remains an increasingly isolated bastion of low rents: tenants pay an average of $436 per month and the average resident household income is roughly $23,000 a year.
The pro-business administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg points out to disgruntled tenants that the agency itself is strapped for cash. Earlier this year, the deficit kamikaze of federal sequestration blasted a $200 million hole in NYCHA’s budget. Though the City Council has sincepledged some funds to shrink the shortfall to about $150 million, the infusion is aimed at just keeping basic community facilities open and staffed, including dozens of NYCHA-run senior centers.
On top of the heavy cuts, NYCHA faces a groaning backlog of hundreds of thousands of repair requests, with many families waiting years for basic sink and electrical repairs. Last year, Superstorm Sandy heaped even more damage onto already dilapidated buildings. Read the rest of this entry →