NYCHA needs big money for major progress

Here’s why the federal government should double the amount allocated in the American Jobs Plan for public housing to $80 billion and help bring much-needed change to the housing authority in New York City.

Sen. Charles Schumer makes his case for doubling the amount for public housing in President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan to $80 billion.

Sen. Charles Schumer makes his case for doubling the amount for public housing in President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan to $80 billion. Ron Adar/Shutterstock

There is a humanitarian crisis going on in public housing developments across New York City.  Due to decades of disinvestment, many of the New York City Housing Authority’s properties have fallen into such a state of disrepair that the only solution is through big, bold, and transformative action by the federal government. 

Everyday within a NYCHA building, kids are exposed to lead that irreparably damages their brains; mold clogs the lungs of hard working men and women; residents are left without gas to cook a meal at home, without heat to stay warm in the winter, and without air conditioning to keep cool in the summer. Hot water systems fail for weeks at a time and broken elevators trap seniors in their apartments ten or twenty stories up.

This crisis isn’t isolated to a few residents; It impacts many of the 400,000 New Yorkers who live in a NYCHA development.

NYCHA is a city within a city, larger than Tampa and catching up to the entire state of Wyoming. It’s unfathomable that so many New Yorkers have lived in substandard conditions. But it’s true.

Decades of federal disinvestment, insufficient support from the city and state, and a failure to heed tenant leadership brought us to this point. It will take massive federal re-investment to bring NYCHA back from the brink.

President Joe Biden recognized the need for this kind of investment when he included $40 billion for public housing in his American Jobs Plan. But it’s just not enough to address this crisis. I have proposed we at least double that amount to $80 billion in order to address the crisis in New York City and fully fix public housing around the country. I have pledged to use all of my power as majority leader, alongside my New York colleagues in the House of Representatives, to secure a funding package that can restore and transform NYCHA. We have already completed the first step of this process – passing a budget resolution that included reconciliation instructions in the senate and house of representatives. This will allow congress to make historic investments for working-class American families, including saving public housing authorities like NYCHA.

The longer we wait, the worse the problem will become. In 2011, NYCHA’s capital needs were estimated at $17 billion. Due to inflation, deferred maintenance, lack of investment, and rising costs, the number now stands at over $40 billion.

With an adequate level of funding we can make the critical repairs that NYCHA residents need while also transforming the authority to confront the problems of tomorrow. That means investing in sustainable and efficient infrastructure that will reduce energy costs for residents and cut down on the pollution making our kids and our planet sick. It means working elevators and better drainage, along with electric heating systems and efficient appliances. Transforming NYCHA in this way will create thousands of good, union jobs.

Over the last few months, I’ve visited numerous public housing developments, and met with the heroic tenant leaders, community organizers, and religious leaders who are the voice of NYCHA residents. The challenges they confront anger me, but their resilience inspires me. 

Our fight to properly fund public housing is about meeting a humanitarian crisis. But it’s also about restoring faith in government. At one time, New Yorkers joyfully welcomed news that a family member or friend had secured a spot in a NYCHA development. To this day, NYCHA provides huge numbers of genuinely affordable apartments to working New Yorkers.

At the height of the Great Depression, in 1935 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, construction began on the First Houses — one of the first public housing developments in the United States. Faced with the incalculable suffering of the Depression, New Yorkers and Americans decided that they needed to work together through collective action, also known as government. They had faith in their collective capacity to solve the enormous problems that they faced.

Faced with our own generational economic, public health, and environmental crises and crumbling public housing, we must renew that faith and say with one voice as New Yorkers: Fund NYCHA now!