Governments have divested from public housing in a bid to unlock the value of real estate for private landlords. To do this, public housing authorities have willingly demolished public housing. The same fate that befell Cabrini-Green in Chicago now threatens some NYCHA public housing apartment buildings, thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio (WFP-New York City). Source : Joe M500 (CC BY 2.0). Original photograph was cropped for this photo illustration.

de Blasio plans to convert another 1,718 public housing apartments in Manhattan under RAD, even after new signaling and the unknown threat of demolition looms over NYCHA

By Progress New York Staff

At a Zoom town hall officiated by New York City Councilmember Donovan Richards (D-Far Rockaway), the chairperson and chief executive officer of the local public housing authority continued a new signaling that appeared to put distance between the housing leader and a controversial Federal programme that would end public housing as we know it.

Gregory Russ, the housing leader, was appointed to head the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, in 2019, in part, to settle a Federal criminal and civil rights investigation into the physical condition standards of the embattled local housing authority. The appointment, by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) was seen, at that time then, to position NYCHA to put public housing into the hands of private landlords under a Federal programme named Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD. Under RAD, a local housing authority turns over the collection of rent and the management of public housing to private landlords in exchange for their paying of at least some backlog repairs. But the new messaging coming from Mr. Russ during Councilmember Richards’ virtual town hall appeared to call into question RAD’s role in NYCHA’s future.

“The reinvestment of NYCHA properties have got to be part of the ‘bringing-us-out-of’ this COVID dilemma and into the future,” Mr. Russ said, adding, “… We are rigorously going to pursue recapitalisation of the entire portfolio — all of the stock. We’re going to — if I can use the word — make a ‘demand’ on the Federal Government inside the existing rules that we believe can lead to more capital for this set of properties that is valuable for the City of New York. And I want to say, if we are successful in raising this capital — and I’m not necessarily talking about RAD, I’m not necessarily talking about privatisation. I’m talking about lifting up these buildings and the people, who live there in a way that is to scale and is appropriate, given the circumstances we have in the City.”

The press office office supporting NYCHA’s executives did not immediately answer a request for clarification of Mr. Russ’ comments. In New York, public housing undergirds the affordability of housing in an expensive residential real estate market and makes the right to living in the City accessible to up to an estimated 600,000 individuals, possibly more. The loss of even a fraction of public housing would result in “permanent damage” to New York City, according to a 2018 study. The supposed, new sensibility from NYCHA’s top executive comes as a time when the local public housing authority has refused to fully disclose the ravages of the Coronavirus pandemic in public housing, revealing a contradiction, of sorts, in concern for the health of residents.

Mr. Russ’ entry into the Zoom town hall began at the 42:17 mark in a video that was broadcast over Facebook. Portions of Mr. Russ’ comments pertaining to RAD were first noted in a tweet published by television news anchor and reporter, Monica Morales.

16 Manhattan public housing apartment buildings facing imminent RAD conversion

Mr. Russ’ remarks follow a letter sent last month by a national association of local public housing authorities in which the association appeared to be lobbying in support of a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY 7), seeking Federal funding for the full backlog of capital repairs necessary to upgrade the physical condition standards of the nation’s public housing authorities. At a town hall hosted by Mayor de Blasio on Dec. 19, 2019, members of the activist group, Fight For NYCHA, asked the mayor to turn to U.S. Rep. Velázquez’s bill for funding and, thereby, abandon RAD. In numerous news reports and editorials, including an editorial published by NYU News, RAD has been shown to be dangerous and inadequate.

As alleged by Fight For NYCHA, which is supported, in part, by Progress New York, Mayor de Blasio has been carrying out the mass disposition of public housing by foregoing the ULURP process, a form of participatory democracy that brings transparency to zoning and land use changes. As alleged, the mayor’s scheme for public housing was focused on placing one-third of public housing apartments (approx. 62,000 units) into the hands of private landlords under the controversial RAD programme without public input.

Under the threat of opposition, the de Blasio administration had been allegedly in a rush to turn over the next lot of public housing apartments to RAD landlords. Since the establishment chief judge for the U.S. District Court for New York’s southern district tossed out a complained filed by activists in an attempt to raise funding for NYCHA upgrades and to put a halt on RAD conversions, there was nothing to stop the mayor to proceed with the next large disposition of public housing. As a result, the next wave of public housing apartment buildings to be handed over to private sector RAD landlords have been identified, according to information publicly released by NYCHA, as :

  • 335 East 111th Street
  • Park Avenue-East 122nd, 123rd Streets
  • Manhattanville Rehab (Group 2)
  • Manhattanville Rehab (Group 3)
  • Public School 139 (Conversion)
  • Samuel (MHOP) I
  • Samuel (MHOP) II
  • Samuel (MHOP) III
  • Fort Washington Avenue Rehab
  • Grampion
  • Washington Heights Rehab (Groups 1&2)
  • Washington Heights Rehab Phase III
  • Washington Heights Rehab Phase IV (C)
  • Washington Heights Rehab Phase IV (D)
  • Wise Towers
  • 344 East 28th Street

At the time when the private sector landlords for the RAD conversion of 16 public housing complexes were announced in June 2019, the Office of the Mayor packaged political support into a public statement, compelling U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY 13), City Councilmember Diana Ayala (D-East Harlem), and New York State Assemblymembers Robert Rodriguez (D-East Harlem) and Inez Dickens (D-Harlem) into supporting the disposition of the combined 1,718 public housing apartments.

NYCHA has published a legal notice, telegraphing its intent to request a release of funds for the RAD disposition of the 16 buildings. Under rules of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the public have a finite period to lodge an objection. Agency officials, including Luigi D’Ancona, have not responded to numerous requests to identify the actual last day on which objections are due to be filed, pursuant to 24 CFR Part 58.

The mayor’s plans for NYCHA included the RAD conversion of public housing ; the sale and/or lease of green spaces, children’s playgrounds, and parking lots and their MIH rezoning ; the sale of air rights, and the construction of luxury apartments on real property to fund at least some backlog repairs to public housing. The controversial plan included the demolition of public housing of apartment buildings that had not been condemned but solely for the purpose of unlocking the value of the real estate in neighborhoods that the de Blasio administration had a role in gentrifying. It’s unknown if the plans for demolition, particularly at the Fulton Houses public housing development in Chelsea, are still slated to go forward, despite opposition from residents, the community, and activists.

In the wake of the economic depression caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, structured finance transactions, like RAD, have lost economic appeal due to two factors : First, record low interest rates have eroded the value of Federal income tax credits that many investment companies seek, and, second, a new economic uncertainty has tainted the promise of Government subsidies that severe austerity measures now make unlikely to be awarded, according to a report published by POLITICO New York.

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