Repairs In City Housing A Major Issue; Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Cites Management At NYCHA

In an editorial in yesterday's The New York Times about the great need for repairs for New York City Housing Authority residents and other problems at the Housing Authority, Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief, told the Times that over the course of many years of fighting for tenants' rights in this City, “we have never seen it so bad in terms of management of this agency.” The editorial pointed out that more than 650,000 New Yorkers live in housing controlled or subsidized by NYCHA. The Legal Aid Society has brought a series of lawsuits to protect the rights of families and individuals living in NYCHA controlled or subsidized apartments.

The New York Times
August 15, 2012
Repair New York City’s Housing Issues

More than 650,000 people live in housing that is controlled or subsidized by the New York City Housing Authority. Too many have to wait for months for needed repairs to leaking plumbing and other problems. In an estimated 10,000 apartments, repairs are not scheduled until 2014. This is clearly unacceptable.

The question is how to do the fixing. The housing authority would be a good place to start. The New York Daily News uncovered a t$10 million consultant’s analysis that says the authority is not organized to spend money wisely or efficiently. Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, says essentially the same thing.

John Rhea, the chairman of the housing authority, acknowledges problems but says his biggest concern is that Congress is steadily cutting housing allowances. Over the last decade, Washington has cut the city’s share of operating funds for public housing by a total of $757 million.

Doing more with less is Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s mantra. But people who have been working with the city’s housing bureaucracy are baffled about why Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Rhea, his appointee, have allowed the agency to become so disorganized and unresponsive.

Steven Banks, the chief lawyer of New York’s Legal Aid Society, says that in 32 years of fighting for tenants’ rights in the city, “we have never seen it so bad in terms of management of this agency.” Mr. Stringer blames an “antiquated management structure” on the way funds sit untouched and apartments unfixed. His solution, which requires approval in Albany, is a larger board with shorter terms. He also notes that the top administrative job has been vacant since 2010 and that too many decisions are made by the board, not the managers.

This may be one reason that the consultant’s study reportedly said that the authority has “limited capacity to efficiently or effectively spend” federal dollars. Public housing is the only way many people of limited means can survive in a vital city. Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Rhea owe it to these people to make their housing livable.