August 1, 2007

My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York State's 29th Senatorial District, which includes the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments Amsterdam Houses, Amsterdam Addition, Fulton Houses, Chelsea-Elliot, Chelsea Addition, and Harbor View Terrace. As the State Senator representing the residents of these developments as well as hundreds of residents of City and State funded NYCHA units, I am particularly concerned with some of the cost-cutting proposals that NYCHA has included in its Draft 2008 Annual Plan.

I understand that NYCHA faces a $225 million budget shortfall this year due to increasing costs and the failure of all levels of government to provide appropriate funding. I appreciate how difficult this makes it for NYCHA to remain true to its mandate of increasing public housing and maintaining services. I have been working in the State Senate to close this gap and, though only $3.4 million was approved in this yearfs state budget, we were able to add public housing for the first time as a line item, enabling increases in coming years. In addition, I am pleased that we were able to pass the Shelter Allowance Bill in both the Senate (S.4329) and the Assembly (A.7905). This bill creates parity between public housing authorities and private sector landlords in terms of the shelter allowance for tenants on public assistance. If signed by the Governor, this bill would provide NYCHA with an estimated $47 million a year in additional State funding.

While NYCHA's dire financial straits are clear, some of the measures proposed in the Draft 2008 Annual Plan to reduce the shortfall are unacceptable. I do not believe, for example, that NYCHAfs Section 8 Voluntary Transition Proposal to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development is an appropriate means for balancing NYCHA's budget. By leveraging 8,400 Section 8 vouchers for residents of State- and City-public housing to offset missing operating subsidies, this proposal would shift the burden of the budget shortfall onto the shoulders of some of New York's most vulnerable families. There are currently tens of thousands of families on the Section 8 waiting list, and without these vouchers, it is unlikely that many of these families will ever receive Section 8 assistance. They should not be denied housing because of the City and Statefs inability to provide adequate support to buildings for which they are responsible. We must work together to close the gap by resuming annual subsidies, not by cannibalizing Section 8 funds.

I also strongly oppose NYCHA's plan to lay off 500 of its employees. Not only would hundreds of workers be out of jobs, but also maintenance in developments would surely further decline as a result. I already receive complaints from constituents living in NYCHA developments reporting slow and ineffectual responses to calls for repairs and emergency services. I fear that the quality of life in these communities will only further decline, potentially forcing many tenants to live in squalid conditions. Furthermore, reducing maintenance today will likely necessitate more costly repairs in years ahead. As arduous at it may be to balance the financial shortfall while providing basic services in its numerous developments, NYCHA cannot forget its responsibility to either its tenants or its employees.

In working towards a solution, I must re-emphasize the need for NYCHA to tap the tremendous resources it has in tenant associations, the Resident Advisory Board, and the Citywide Council of Presidents. Resident participation is vital to molding the best possible solutions to these financial challenges, and in working out mutually agreeable compromises. In line with this, I urge NYCHA to create a commission specifically designed to strengthen resident participation. This commission would make recommendations for reforms that would promote more effective resident involvement and interaction with NYCHA. This commission could prove particularly helpful in discussions about the proposed sale and development of empty plots of land within the Harbor View Terrace, Elliot-Chelsea, Fulton Houses and Boulevard and Linden Houses neighborhoods, about which the residents have particular concerns.

Thank you for your consideration of my comments. I will continue to fight hard for increased State funding, as well as support any prudent public initiatives that will help close NYCHA's financial shortfall. I am hopeful that, together, we will find the necessary funding for NYCHA to continue providing services. In the interim, I urge NYCHA to implement alternative and less drastic measures to preserve safe, affordable and decent public housing for New York's neediest and most vulnerable populations.

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