Housing in Brief: A New Plan for NYCHA

Also: racial segregation in Alabama public housing, and a 20-year old land trust merges with Habitat for Humanity in Denver. 

(Photo by Jared Brey)

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A New Plan for NYCHA

The New York City Housing Authority has a massive backlog of maintenance and repair needs, and officials have struggled for years to find funding and a plan to fix thousands of apartments. According to a report from Politico, a new plan put forth by NYCHA Chair and CEO Gregory Russ takes a unique approach to addressing the Authority’s needs without resorting to large-scale privatization of apartments. Under the plan, NYCHA would establish an independent entity known as a public benefit corporation, which could receive federal subsidies to repair and manage housing units.

“The plan, which [Russ] unveiled last month, uses the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s own rules in a novel end run around traditional funding formulas,” the story says. “It also hews to Congress’ traditional preference for housing vouchers over direct subsidy to public housing. And it avoids mention of selling or leasing parcels of the housing authorities’ unused land to generate cash — a plan the de Blasio administration floated in 2018 but seems to have since backed away from.”

If the plan were implemented, the new entity would manage some 100,000 of NYCHA’s 177,000 apartments. Federal funding for those units would come in the form of tenant protection vouchers, which are distributed when certain public or Section 8 housing units change hands, according to the story. But it would still require a massive investment from the federal government in the city’s public housing stock, which some consider far-fetched, according to the report.

“The likelihood of Congress approving 13 times the national [tenant protection voucher] formula allocation, let alone permission to pool it, is slim to none,” Lynne Patton, the regional administrator overseeing New York for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, told Politico.

White Tenants Get River Views in Alabama Public Housing

The public housing authority in Decatur, Alabama, moved white tenants into two housing towers with Tennessee River views and access to amenities while placing Black tenants in lower-quality homes further from the river, according to an Associated Press report. The report follows an earlier story from the Decatur Daily, which was based on a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development detailing the practice. Ninety-four percent of tenants in the towers near the river were white, while all of the tenants in a separate apartment complex known as Westgate Gardens were Black, according to the reports.

“Residents of the two multistory buildings have access to a city park where events are held; walking trails; riverfront views; a library; meeting spaces; a mobile food pantry; a community kitchen and a patio, according to a letter from HUD,” the AP report said. “Westgate Gardens lacks similar amenities, it said.”

HUD’s report said that workers at the Decatur Housing Authority explained the disparity by saying that it was based on Black tenants’ preference. HUD began the investigation after the Justice Department found patterns of housing discrimination in Alabama and Mississippi, according to the report. The housing authority is now paying out $200,000 in discrimination lawsuit settlements and has agreed to spend $1 million on repairs and improvements at Westgate Gardens, according to the report.

Habitat for Humanity Absorbs Land Trust in Denver

Two organizations with overlapping approaches to promoting housing affordability are combining operations, as the Colorado Community Land Trust is being absorbed into Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, according to a report in Denverite.

Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver is one of a network of organizations around the globe that help people buy affordable homes by investing “sweat equity” and working with volunteer builders. It has built more than 600 homes in Denver. The Colorado CLT was founded in 2002 and owns 215 homes in the city and county of Denver, according to the group’s website.

Land trusts are an increasingly popular strategy for protecting housing from becoming too expensive. The trusts own land, and sell the homes on top of the land to buyers at below-market prices. When buyers move on, they earn a portion of the equity but are required to sell the homes at a certain reduced price, to keep it affordable. Land prices have been on the rise in Denver, and Jane Harrington, who leads the Colorado Community Land Trust, told Denverite that the organization is “struggling to add to our inventory,” according to the report. Heather Lafferty, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, proposed the idea of taking over the land trust when she heard that Harrington was planning to retire, according to the report. Lafferty told Denverite that most of Habitat’s large development projects in the future would be completed under a community land trust model.

“We really had shared values and similar missions,” Lafferty told Denverite. “We think we’re stronger together.”

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Jared Brey is Next City's housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.

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Tags: new york citypublic housingdenverland trustsalabama

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