New York City’s Public Housing System Now Needs Almost $80 Billion

Worsening living conditions in the city’s public housing system have vast implications.

NYCHA’s developments are home to more than 330,000 people, a population larger than that of Orlando or Pittsburgh.

While more than 40 percent of the families living in NYCHA homes have at least one person who is working, the agency estimates, the system is also increasingly a source of housing for the city’s growing number of older people on fixed incomes.

NYCHA homes are also unique pockets of affordability in one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Rents for public housing residents tend to be capped at 30 percent of their income, and the average rent is less than $560 per month.

The apartments are highly sought after; nearly 275,000 families were on the waiting list for a NYCHA apartment this year.

New York’s public housing system was once heralded as a progressive triumph. But because most of NYCHA’s buildings were built in the mid-20th century, many are due for updates and repairs.

The state of the system has become a major flashpoint in broader political fights about the future of housing. Politicians on the left contend that all levels of government should do more to preserve and even expand the role of public housing, while NYCHA’s dysfunction is a frequent punching bag for politicians on the right.

The federal government in past decades has not provided enough funding to maintain the developments, resulting in the growing repair backlog, but the agency has also been criticized for inefficiency and mismanagement.

After a federal investigation, the city reached a settlement in 2019 that led to the appointment of a federal monitor to scrutinize NYCHA’s progress on dealing with some of its most serious problems, including lead, mold and heating failures.

Different mayoral administrations have sought to address NYCHA’s needs in different ways. Mayor Eric Adams has made shifting the developments to private management — through a federal program created by the administration of President Barack Obama — his biggest focus.

That could allow the agency to tap into billions of dollars in loans and subsidies, and could also lead to the demolition of some buildings. The first targets for the program are two developments in Chelsea. The agency has said the plan has the backing of most residents, but it has come under fire from housing advocates who say residents were not properly consulted and that some could be displaced.

A new public benefit corporation, created by the state last year, could also give the access to more funds.

NYCHA also has new leadership: Mr. Adams last week appointed Lisa Bova-Hiatt as chief executive, following her stint as interim head of the agency, and Jamie Rubin, a former state housing and storm recovery official, as chair.

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