New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that he will declare a state of emergency for New York City Housing Authority, meaning that the state could hire a private contractor to fast-track repairs.
“The answer can’t be to NYCHA residents, it’s going to take us three years to turn on the heat,” Cuomo recently said in an NY1 interview. “The answer can’t be, well we don’t really know if your child is in an apartment with lead poisoning. I understand why the residents are outraged and we have to do something. We have to do something quickly.”
Four City Council members formally requested a state declaration last month, New York Post reports. Tenants’ organizations and nonprofits have also pushed for drastic action, citing issues with lead paint, mold and lapses in access to heat and hot water.
The governor has not actually issued the declaration yet, the Post points out, nor has he detailed exactly what it will entail. The Citywide Council of Presidents (CCOP) (the governing body for NYCHA tenants) and At-Risk Community Services Inc., a nonprofit advocating for public housing tenants, have requested that it trigger the State Legislature to authorize an expedited design-build-procurement process and hire a private company, according to a release from the legal representative of the two groups. Cuomo referenced that legislation in his NY1 interview.
The maintenance and repair backlog on New York’s stock of public housing is long-standing.
“Public housing developments are essentially designed to operate at a loss,” Oscar Perry Abello wrote for Next City last year. “Tenants typically pay 30 percent of their monthly income on rent to the local housing authority, no matter what the operating cost of a unit might be. The federal government was supposed to be the main source of funding to fill in the gaps, but it chronically falls short of doing so.”
The HUD Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, created in 2011 under the Obama administration’s purview, does allow public housing authorities to tap private investment to address those repairs. New York City began its first project under RAD last year.
In his NY1 interview, however, Cuomo expressed trepidation at the thought of the current federal administration taking a greater interest in the city’s public housing woes.
“Once the federal government acts, you just turn the housing authority to Trump, the Trump administration, which would be a real blow not only to the housing authority, but to our governance here in the state of New York,” he said.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.