De Blasio put forth a plan for NYCHA in 2015 that went mostly unfulfilled in the succeeding years. Then in late 2018, amid negotiations with federal prosecutors and HUD over the future of the agency, the mayor unveiled an updated proposal, dubbed NYCHA 2.0.
He sought to tap private real estate firms for two elements of the proposal: managing public housing complexes and, in areas that could command high real estate prices, constructing market-rate buildings on open spaces or parking lots. Both have triggered opposition from residents, politicians and candidates for office.
The goal of bringing private management to 62,000 units — about one-third of the authority’s total — is on track and accounted for in Russ’ blueprint. Those apartments will be placed in the Obama-era program known as Rental Assistance Demonstration — which retains public ownership of land but provides vouchers for private firms to make capital improvements and then act as the landlord, taking the units off the books of the financially strapped authority.
However, the administration’s plans for what is known in the housing world as “infill development” at two Manhattan sites have been blocked by tenants, elected officials and the courts, and the mayor has stopped advocating for it.
“The current approach to the infill plan is the biggest headache for the least amount of money,” said Moses Gates, vice president of housing and neighborhood planning for the Regional Plan Association, which has called for a public trust model for public housing.
The new proposition doesn’t obviate the possibility of private development, which could still raise billions of dollars in capital money. But it presents a far less contentious option that would theoretically stabilize the balance of NYCHA’s public housing units while maintaining end-to-end public control.
It does, however, depend on approval from Albany and Washington, D.C. The creation of the trust requires action by the state — far from a certainty, considering the ritualistic bickering that has characterized the relationship between the mayor and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz, chair of the Housing Committee, told POLITICO he has already been working on draft legislation for months and plans to be the sponsor. If he and city officials are able to convince Cuomo and legislative leaders — none of whom have yet weighed in on the notion — that the creation of a public nonprofit is a good idea, then the setup could also put NYCHA in a unique bargaining position in Washington.
In January 2019, HUD reached a settlement with the de Blasio administration following a federal lawsuit over gross mismanagement and deplorable living conditions. The pact, overseen by a federal monitor who declined to comment for this story, requires the city to come up with a plan to eliminate health and safety hazards in every apartment.
The authority says that would cost at least $18 billion more than what it projects to receive in revenue and would involve replacing kitchens, bathrooms and piping, for example, along with installing ventilation systems to tackle mold and rethinking the heating systems altogether. Stabilizing other portions of the properties, including community centers, grounds and cladding, would take another $7 billion.