In POLITICO, Judith Goldiner calls on Albany and City Hall increase allocations to NYCHA to fully fund the Authority’s outstanding capital needs.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday he's proposing an additional $250 million in state funding for the struggling New York City Housing Authority, while continuing to criticize Mayor Bill de Blasio’s record on public housing.
The problems facing the housing authority have been the latest subject of the ongoing feud between the governor and the mayor, and Cuomo did not hesitate to suggest Saturday that, were he in charge, he would do a superior job of improving conditions at NYCHA developments. At a rally in East Harlem, he noted repeatedly that, while the crisis-plagued agency is not under his control, poor conditions and inaction from the city merit more state involvement.
“Even though the state has no financial responsibility, I'm going to fight for another $250 million for NYCHA residents because I want to say, to this federal government and this city government, it's time to lead,” he said to cheers from public housing residents and advocates outside Taft Houses.
“The state, unfortunately, has no role in the ownership or the management [of NYCHA]. I wish I did, then I promise you change would come and change would come quick,” Cuomo said. He toured an apartment at Taft before the rally, and cited the “third-world” conditions he’s seen in NYCHA buildings, many of which have faced periods with no heat or hot water this past winter, among other issues.
The rally was the second time this week tenants have gathered to take sides between the governor and mayor in the simmering fight. On Thursday, a group of residents gathered outside the Alfred Smith houses on the Lower East Side and called on Cuomo to stop "playing politics" with the beleaguered authority where, in addition to heating outages, residents have endured ongoing problems with lead and mold.
“You all want to give a speech about how you're great progressives, and New York is the progressive capital of the nation,” Cuomo said Saturday, in a not-so-veiled attack on de Blasio. “No it's not, when you have people living in the filth that we have at NYCHA. You're hypocrites if that's what you call progressive."
The Citywide Council of Presidents, which represents public housing tenants, filed a lawsuit against the agency last month calling for an independent contractor to oversee repairs at the agency — a call the governor renewed his support for Saturday. Jim Walden, the attorney representing the council, praised the governor’s support on the issue to the crowd, while slamming City Council and state Assembly members for “stonewalling his efforts and our efforts and your efforts, probably under pressure from the mayor.”
Council Member Ritchie Torres, a critic of de Blasio, did not hold back harsh words for the mayor and agency leadership at the rally.
“There are elected officials in this city who are afraid of the mayor, because he's a powerful man, but I'm one member of the City Council who has no fear of the mayor,” Torres said. "I'd rather do right by my mother, who lives in public housing, than do the bidding of the mayor of the city of New York.”
Torres did not elaborate on which elected officials he was referring to, when asked.
"The Mayor loves to go on national tours, and God bless him for it," Torres added. "Because he has a national legacy — the mismanagement of public housing is a national scandal, it is a national embarrassment."
The mayor has emphasized the need for the state to allow the city use of design-build in NYCHA improvements, a tool that he says would help speed up repairs of outdated boilers and other infrastructure issues. City officials have also pointed to $200 million promised for the agency in last year’s state budget which NYCHA has not yet received, though the governor’s office has said the agency has not given enough clarity on how those funds would be used.
But Torres said he thinks the problems at NYCHA are more structural and more expansive than lack of funding or design-build authority. He has also been a vocal critic of NYCHA chair Shola Olatoye, whom the mayor has defended amid calls for her resignation.
“We are in the midst of a struggle between a failing bureaucracy at NYCHA and the residents of public housing. The mayor has chosen to stand with the failing bureaucracy, the governor has chosen to stand with all of you,” he said. “More funds and design-build will only get you so far, because the bureaucracy at NYCHA is fundamentally broken."
The Legal Aid Society, which has threatened to sue the agency for rent reimbursements for tenants after the heating outages, cautioned that the funding promised for the agency pales in comparison to the amount of funding NYCHA needs for improvements. It is estimated that the chronically under-funded agency has $25 billion in unmet capital needs.
“NYCHA’s capital needs demand billions of dollars in improvements, and $250 million is merely a drop in the bucket. If Albany and City Hall mean to seriously remedy NYCHA’s current state, funding must match the magnitude of this pressing public problem,” Judith Goldiner, Attorney-In-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit, said in a statement.
Mayoral spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said in a statement, “If the State matches the City's recent $200 million investment in NYCHA, it would be a major win for tenants. This is precisely what we've been seeking for months. We sincerely hope the Governor follows through on this new promise, delivers on last year's funding, and gives NYCHA the authority it needs to speed up major repairs.”
Residents at the rally Saturday seemed buoyed by Cuomo's rhetoric and that of other officials, but several said, despite NYCHA being the center of a political battle in recent months, they continue to have issues with heat and hot water in their apartments that need to be addressed.
“We’ve been hearing talk for years now. They always talk but no one ever actually does anything. So I’m hoping there’s actually some action,” said Makeva Caines, who has lived at Taft for over two decades. “It seems like talk always comes back around when elections are happening. I’ve been here since 1993, and I’ve been complaining about hot water since 1993.”