Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Financial crisis of NYCHA

Public Housing is usually seen by many Americans as a social good for families that can't afford market rate housing. While there are stereotypes that the residents are welfare mothers, drug addicts, or just lazy, this simply is not the demographic of public housing. Housing residents tend to be the working poor, seniors, and disabled individuals.

NYCHA is on the brink of starting down a road that it will not be able to turn back from. While federal funding has been less throughout the Bush administration, the state and city are no longer stepping in to close the budget gap. This excellent article by Nicholas Dagen Bloom in the Gotham Gazette explains:
As a result of these declining federal subsidies and increasing operating costs, for the past few years the authority has run an approximate 10 percent annual deficit. Annual cuts have been made in everything from staff to social programs. Administrators have eliminated 2,500 positions over the past decade. Declining subsidies within a few years will lead to even steeper cuts in the projects that could undermine tenants' basic quality of life.

The authority's recent announcement that it will close its community centers, and raise rents once again on the higher income tenants, signals the onset of serious consequences resulting from annual shortfalls. The city as a whole can scarcely afford to let its projects decline as they have in other cities. The city government, to its credit, has underwritten billions in bonds for building renovation, and until a few years ago provided an annual subsidy. State and city government, however, have had to spend little to maintain such an enormous system because the combination of federal subsidies and rents have covered most of the annual costs.

The city is starting to feel the shock waves as NYCHA has announced that it is planning on closing its community centers throughout the city. These centers serve youth, senior, and social service agencies that utilize the space to provide services. While this may not seem like a a big shock, by taking away in-house services to their buildings these residents will either have to seek out these services elsewhere (very doubtful), or just won't even bother.

In times like these you would expect leadership from the Mayor and City Council and they would do what they have to do. Wrong! Instead, this current budget process the NYC Council put aside a paltry $18 million to help NYCHA close their funding gap of almost $200 million. In a $59.8 billion dollar budget, that seems like pennies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The social benefits of investing in the people in public housing are clearly a public good. But they do not exist in a vacuum. Like interstate highways, public housing is very dependent on federal money. In this situation, the writing on the wall is clear - that money will slowly dry out. The city has plenty of other options besides trying to make up the difference. The amount of housing in the city is too great to support when the federal money dries up. The city needs to pursue other options - like the existing tax incentives for affordable housing in new construction. The existing housing projects need to slowly transition to become coops, and the older buildings need to be torn down before repair costs explode like they did in Co-op city.