NYCHA’s $78B shock leaves privatization as the only option

NYCHA’s admission that its long-term-repair needs now top $78 billion, double the already-impossibly-daunting estimate of just five years ago, makes it inarguable that the only hope to save this housing stock is privatization, privatization, privatization.

Enough with the dreams that the cash will magically come from . . . somewhere. Buildings erected a century or half-century ago, and poorly maintained for decades now, are falling apart.

They need new roofs, pipes and boilers; mass remediation of lead-paint and deadly mold — and NYCHA can’t even keep its elevators in good repair.

With progressive super-majorities in both houses, the Legislature just punted on doing anything about the city’s affordable-housing crisis.

Heck, for five years Albany has stalled on playing its part in the 2019 NYCHA-rescue plan. More-dire need won’t make it do better.

Washington? It won’t even help us with the homeless-migrant crisis it created.

Fine: COVID and the eviction moratorium tanked the agency’s income. Blame whoever you want; getting back rent from the 71,000 tenants in arrears, were it even doable, wouldn’t dent the need now.

Despite federal intervention, the agency’s annual cash shortfall ballooned from $158 million in 2014 to $789 million in 2022.

Without drastic action, ever more of NYCHA’s 330,000 residents will find their homes unlivable.

It needs to accelerate the “privatization” under the federal RAD program to transfer whole projects to private management, which can fund repairs and stop the underfunded maintenance that’s seen endless continued decay under public “managers.”

And it needs to get top dollar for the prime real estate it controls: Sell off empty lots, and even move tenants out of projects on high-value plots to sell at top dollar and fund replacement complexes in less-desirable areas.

Under the current outlook, these buildings will fall down soon enough, anyway.

The new plan to raze Manhattan’s Fulton Houses and Chelsea-Elliot Houses to build 2,000-plus new apartments for current NYCHA tenants, plus 3,500 new for-profit and somewhat-subsidized units, leaves too much potential on the table.

Milk the sites for every dime they can bring in; current tenants will have to make do with new units elsewhere for the sake of the system’s other tenants stuck in disaster-zone buildings.

NYCHA's cash deficit has gone from $158 million in 2014 to $789 million in 2022.
NYCHA’s cash deficit has gone from $158 million in 2014 to $789 million in 2022.
Christopher Sadowski

As housing expert Howard Husock recently put it, “the condition of NYCHA today” fundamentally suggests “a new round of slum clearance — of the projects themselves.”

Ideologues and “tenant advocates” can posture all they want. They’ve been doing that for five years (and decades before that), while the crisis grows ever-worse.

Clinging to New Deal/Great Society nostrums won’t get a darn thing built, or sufficiently repaired. (Even progressives no longer embrace that model for new affordable housing.)

Today’s NYCHA has the assets to not turn a third of million people onto the street. Face reality and get it done.

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