NEWS AND ISSUES
Testimony by New York State Senator Duane Before the New York City Housing Authority Public Hearing on the Draft 2012 Annual Plan
August 24, 2011
My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York State's 29th Senate District, in which Amsterdam Houses, Amsterdam Addition, 344 East 28th Street, Fulton Houses, Chelsea-Elliot, Chelsea Addition, and Harbor View Terrace are located. As the State Senator representing the residents of these New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments as well as residents of Section 8 Leased Housing and other NYCHA units, I am particularly concerned about New York City's public housing stock and the well-being of its residents. Thank you for this opportunity to submit testimony on NYCHA's Draft Annual Plan for Fiscal Year 2012 ("Draft Annual Plan").
Last year, NYCHA seemed to make significant progress with the implementation of its Mixed-Finance Modernization Plan ("federalization"), which effectively eliminated the Authority's structural deficits for public housing. I was proud to co-sponsor its requisite State enabling legislation. I am dismayed, however, that this new federal operating revenue has proven insufficient to maintain the Authority's properties and to ensure safe and sanitary conditions for its residents. I also share the concerns of the New York City Alliance to Preserve Public Housing regarding the inadequacy of the Authority's job placement efforts, its failure to engage residents when making significant decisions, and the problematic implementation of its Section 8 modernization efforts.
Perhaps the most salient among these issues is the crisis in building maintenance that is adversely impacting countless NYCHA residents. Despite the infusion of funds from federalization, it seems that NYCHA's maintenance capabilities have declined. Constituents and a number of media outlets have reported extremely long delays on many essential repairs and maintenance projects in individual apartments as well as common areas. If such delays were to occur in any other New York City apartment building, tenants would go on rent strike and landlords would be penalized by City and/or State agencies for violating the Warranty of Habitability. As you know, public housing residents lack such recourse. I understand that the Authority has sought to improve customer service and to streamline its service request process, but constituents who have contacted my office are primarily concerned about the timeliness and quality of repairs, not the process by which they make the complaints. They report yearlong waiting periods for shoddy work that often must be redone shortly after completion. This is unacceptable. I urge NYCHA to develop a more effective system of evaluating contractors and penalizing those whose work falls short. I also urge NYCHA to expand its use of the Job Order Contract model, in which general contractors are hired to oversee comprehensive repairs, in contrast with the prevailing method of piecemeal repairs that often result in inefficiencies and even unfinished work. I anticipate that that this model will prove more efficient as well as more cost effective.
Given that all stakeholders recognize the fiscal challenges that NYCHA continues to face, the Authority must heed the call of residents, public housing advocates and elected officials, and terminate its outdated 1994 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for "special police services" and vehicles. There is no reason for NYCHA to be making obscene annual payments of close to $100 million to the NYPD; like other New Yorkers, public housing residents pay for police protection with their taxes. Likewise, there is no reason NYCHA should have to make $23 million in annual payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) while other non-profit housing providers are exempt from PILOT requirements. This inequity is inexcusable. These funds would be much better spent on preserving NYCHA's aging buildings, improving residents' living conditions and closing the Authority's recurring $60 million out-year deficit.
The Draft Annual Plan also fails to go far enough to address the employment and training needs of NYCHA residents. It cites Section 3 of the 1968 Housing and Urban Development Act, "whose purpose is to ensure that employment and other economic opportunities generated by Federal assistance to public housing authorities shall, to the greatest extent feasible and with best faith efforts, be directed to public housing residents and other low and very low-income persons." While the Draft Annual Plan highlights the Authority's marked year-to-year increase in job placements with contractors and its laudable initiative to facilitate residents' access to green jobs training and placement assistance, the net number of residents benefiting from NYCHA's Section 3 efforts falls far short of the estimated 80,000 residents who are currently unemployed. I urge NYCHA to explore all options for maximizing the employment of its residents. For example, NYCHA should promote GED programs as part of its newly enforced community service requirement to greatly improve younger residents' job prospects. Also, as you know, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently determined that NYCHA's aforementioned MOU with the NYPD triggers Section 3 requirements. Should NYCHA continue to abide by this MOU, it must immediately begin coordinating with the NYPD's housing bureau to enable its residents to access sustainable employment opportunities. Doing so would in turn increase newly-employed residents' rent payments and therefore increase NYCHA's revenue stream.
I also wish to take this opportunity to address NYCHA's failure to adequately define what constitutes a "significant amendment," to the agency plan and therefore requires a formal review process. The criteria set forth on page 139 of the Draft Annual Plan explicitly enable NYCHA to use its discretion in determining whether its changes in policy are significant. A narrower definition is warranted. I strongly believe that any NYCHA proposal to demolish public housing developments, dispossess its land, or modify its resident evictions or Standards for Admissions should be considered a significant amendment and be subject to an appropriately comprehensive planning and public review process, including a public hearing with a 45-day notice to all affected residents. This process would ensure that the interests of the authority, NYCHA residents, their neighbors and the community at large are adequately represented. The voices of the approximately 400,000 public housing residents must not be ignored.
As NYCHA finalizes its plan for Fiscal Year 2012 and beyond, I urge the Authority to utilize the tremendous resources it has in its tenant associations, the Resident Advisory Board, and the Citywide Council of Presidents, and to work together with its surrounding communities. This collaboration could prove particularly helpful in addressing such controversial policies as the proposed sale and development of buildings and empty plots of land as well as the Authority's stated desire to take advantage of marketing opportunities. Ultimately, however, we must work together to permanently close the budget gap by eliminating NYCHA's exorbitant and unparalleled payments to the City.
Finally, while I understand this issue is not directly within the purview of the Draft Annual Plan, I am deeply concerned about reported problems with NYCHA's Section 8 program. The Legal Aid Society, which represents many NYCHA residents facing eviction proceedings, as well as other advocates report that modernization efforts have resulted in the loss of a thousands of voucher-holders' records. They also report that NYCHA's recent move to route Section 8 complaints through its Centralized Call Center has made the situation worse, as voucher-holders can no longer navigate the Authority's bureaucracy to recover or replace lost records with the help of a Section 8 housing assistant. In light of these unresolved issues, I urge NYCHA to establish an extra layer of review prior to initiating any Section 8 termination proceedings to guarantee that it does not target families whose records the Authority has misplaced. As you know, such proceedings are an incredible hardship for the program's vulnerable clients.
Thank you for your consideration of my comments. I look forward to continuing to work with NYCHA to preserve safe, affordable and decent public housing for New York's most vulnerable and disadvantaged residents.