Warning of “Demolition by Neglect,” Regional Plan Association Issues Recommendations for Bringing NYCHA to a State of Good Repair

Recommendations include making NYCHA the centerpiece of New York’s housing plan; generating billions in revenue from high-end real estate and an expanded Transfer of Development Rights program; ensuring the authority has access to HPD and other City resources

NEW YORK, NY – If we do not act quickly to address the deepening crisis at NYCHA, the City will soon find itself managing a massive situation of demolition by neglect, according to a new report released today by civic organization Regional Plan Association.

The report, entitled Time to Act: Restoring the Promise of NYC’s Public Housing, comes at a critical juncture: half-measures and deferred maintenance through multiple federal, state and city administrations have left much of New York’s public housing on the brink of total collapse, and each year of inaction magnifies NYCHA’s projected repair costs by at least $850 million.

To reverse NYCHA’s decline, RPA’s report urges the City to accelerate and expand actions to rapidly address the agency’s $45 billion in unmet capital needs, streamline and restructure systems of management and accountability to improve operations, and form a dynamic civic coalition to support elected leaders in advocating for residents.

“A great city does not let people’s homes fall apart,” said Tom Wright, President and CEO, Regional Plan Association. “Failure to act as NYCHA reaches the point of physical collapse would be a terrible disservice to residents and our entire city, with dramatic consequences for all of us who benefit from the opportunity public housing provides in a city grappling with an ever-worsening affordability crisis. But we have options: if we make NYCHA the centerpiece of New York’s housing plan, generate new funding streams from high-end real estate and utilize the resources of other city agencies when needed, we can preserve and grow one of our most important public resources.”

Most critically, the actions already specified in NYCHA’s 2.0 plan should proceed expeditiously. New York State should also increase its support for public housing, However, these actions alone will not suffice.

In this report, RPA outlines ten specific actions that would build on the City’s current initiatives, including the following:

  • Form a new civic coalition. Institutions that ultimately benefit from public housing and public residents —like major employers, labor unions, faith institutions, businesses, professional associations, banks and credit unions—should be instrumental in advocating for the funding and legislation necessary to ensure NYCHA is returned to and remains in a state of good repair, and contribute concrete resources towards this effort.

  • Make NYCHA the centerpiece of New York’s housing plan. Reposition the agency so it is no longer siloed from access to HPD support and other critical City resources. The average cost of repairs needed per NYCHA unit is currently $180,000 over five years, yet its portfolio is excluded from the programmatic assistance and enforcement that the City offers distressed private rental housing. This inequitable distribution of resources over decades has contributed greatly to NYCHA’s inability to maintain quality living conditions.

  • Create a separate development entity. An independent City-controlled authority chaired by the Commissioner of HPD should coordinate comprehensive rehabilitation and major capital work. This entity could be housed within HDC, which would not only integrate NYCHA with greater City resources but also address serious staffing shortages.

  • Ensure high-end real estate contributes its fair share to NYCHA through new proposals such as directing revenue from any pied-a-terre tax and elimination of the cooperative and condominium abatement for the top 10% of properties to NYCHA capital repairs.

  • Generate new revenue in the long-term by supplementing the existing Transfer to Preserve program with new options. Build on NYCHA’s existing Transfer to Preserve program to allow NYCHA campuses to transfer unused development rights, beyond those likely to be utilized under the existing program, to a wider range of sites. Putting in place a proposed new framework to allow transfers within a half-mile radius of NYCHA campuses would, over the long-term, potentially unlock all of the agency’s 78 million square feet of development rights and could generate roughly $4 to $8 billion  dollars in revenue. Current regulations limit the sale of TDRs to within the same tax block, which will likely leave 77 million square feet of NYCHA TDRs landlocked.

Additional recommendations include:

  • Invest in the next generation of public housing and make sure that there is no displacement of residents or loss of public housing during renovation or redevelopment.  

  • Return to a more localized management system to facilitate more efficient and responsive service to public housing residents throughout the city.

  • Create a skills-based exchange program for property managers to encourage mutual learning between public housing administrators and those of nonprofit or privately-managed buildings.

  • Continue to transfer non-core missions to other city agencies to streamline responsibilities in light of significant funding losses, such as assigning management of open spaces to NYC Parks and Recreation.

  • Bring independent voices to the Board of Directors so at least one member is appointed by another NYC elected official, such as the Comptroller or City Council Speaker.

While RPA notes these proposals do not provide a total solution, they are meant to provide a roadmap for building on current efforts, guiding future public housing strategy to avoid what appears to be an imminent failure of potentially catastrophic proportions in New York City and new revenue streams to put a serious dent in NYCHA capital needs.

“This wide-ranging report offers a scathing indictment of the shameful actions that have allowed the homes of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to literally fall apart. It demonstrates the need to make NYCHA the centerpiece of the city’s affordable housing plan – not a separate, competing plan with limited access to key resources. And it rightly recognizes that resident satisfaction is the key metric for assessing NYCHA’s management reforms. NYCHA has many stakeholders that should be involved in any reforms, but accountability to residents is the key factor that will determine whether these reforms succeed,” said David R. Jones, Esq., President and Chief Executive Officer of the Community Service Society of New York.

There is more at stake in fixing NYCHA however than the future of crumbling buildings. The value of NYCHA goes beyond housing; RPA’s 2018 report, NYCHA’s Crisis: A Matter for All New Yorkers highlighted the many benefits to the surrounding neighborhood, such as senior centers, child care facilities, and recreational open space. New York’s public housing residents also represent a significant segment of the workforce in industries like health care, retail and education, and they contribute more than $2 billion in annual spending.