Living conditions for residents in New York City Housing Authority buildings have grown significantly worse in recent years, according to a new report released by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who framed his office's findings both around the need to preserve the city's affordable housing stock and a looming public health crisis.
"Housing conditions at NYCHA have become a laundry list of tenant frustration, from broken windows and peeling paint, to faulty heaters and scurrying rats," Stringer said in a statement. "New York City's housing stock is among the most valuable in the world, but my report today shows that there are great disparities in how New Yorkers live. Securing funding for NYCHA maintenance and repairs and vigorously enforcing the housing code must be a priority for this administration."
Using data from 2002 to 2011, primarily from the Housing and Vacancy Survey (HVS) issued by the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the comptroller's office found that while the city as a whole maintained high-quality housing stock during that time, the conditions in public housing steadily deteriorated.
In 2002, 60 percent of public housing apartments had at least one structural or maintenance "deficiency", with that number ballooning to 79 percent by 2011. Water leaks were found in one-fifth of NYCHA apartments in 2002, compared with one-third of apartments in 2011. There were also marked increases in rodent sightings, broken windows, and heating equipment breakdowns in NYCHA apartments over the last decade.
Additionally, the report highlights the disparity in living conditions between market-rate housing tenants and affordable housing tenants, with 20 percent of rent-stabilized units suffering from heating equipment breakdowns, double the percentage of market-rate units. This information reflects a commonly held notion that rent regulation discourages housing investment. In fact, according to citywide Area Median Income data, a substantially lower percentage of market-rate rental units are deficient compared with rent-regulated apartments in each income group. That disparity extends to race, as over 34 percent of rent-regulated apartments occupied by black households, 28 percent by Hispanic households, and 18 percent by Asian/South Pacific households have three or more structural deficiencies, as opposed to 16 percent of white households.
While Stringer's report does not make any policy recommendations, solving the fiscal puzzle of the nation's largest public housing stock is a quandary with which city leaders have struggled. NYCHA has yearly operating deficits of $77 million and an enormous $18 billion backlog of capital improvements, amid a political climate in Washington that has seen continued disinvestment in urban public housing. Moreover, Stringer has suggested in the past that the management of NYCHA has been characterized by poor investment and spending strategies, as well as incompetent leadership and a "lack of accountability."
Shola Olatoye, a former affordable housing developer who Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed as the new NYCHA chair in February, acknowledged in a recent interview that NYCHA's problems were "pretty dire." While the administration has made a concerted effort to curb violence at NYCHA facilities, which it points to as having led to a recent 4 percent drop in crime in public housing, the mayor has yet to detail a comprehensive plan for improving the beleaguered agency. Some legislators, like City Councilman Ritchie Torres, who chairs the Council’s public housing committee, urged the administration in a recent op-ed to establish a 10-year, multi-billion-dollar "Marshall Plan" to help NYCHA eliminate its backlog of repairs.
To read the comptroller's NYCHA report in its entirety, click here.