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Tenants, Advocates Call for City Budget Funds to Alleviate NYCHA’s Growing Rent Debt


By Tatyana Turner.

Published June 23, 2023


“You think about a $106 billion budget—we’re asking for $400 million with an M,” Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa said at Thursday’s rally. “NYCHA tenants deserve more and we’re going to continue to stand with you until we see a budget that reflects the dignity that you have long deserved.”


Chants echoed throughout City Hall Park Thursday morning with voices from NYCHA residents, community organizers and council members in another effort to push for more funding toward rental arrears at public housing.


They are demanding that Mayor Eric Adams, who has just more than a week to negotiate with lawmakers and finalize the city’s annual budget, include $400 million to alleviate back rent for thousands of NYCHA tenants who’ve fallen behind and spare them from potential eviction.


An estimated 71,341 NYCHA households owe back rent, with the total debt climbing since the pandemic to $501 million as of last month, which officials say could jeopardize the housing authority’s ability to make federally-mandated repairs across its aging housing stock.


New York State originally left public housing tenants and voucher-holders out of its Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), created to aid tenants who’d fallen behind on rent because of the COVID-19 crisis. The most recent state budget, passed last month, gave NYCHA an estimated $163 million of the $391 million it allocated statewide for ERAP.


Advocates now hope the city budget can help address the remaining arrears.


“We are public housing residents and we deserve what everybody else gets,” said Barbara Williams, a NYCHA resident and member of the nonprofit Community Voices Heard, who took to the podium during Thursday’s rally.


The uproar took a solemn turn when Williams talked about the prospect of evictions. At the beginning of COVID, NYCHA implemented an eviction moratorium, but those protections were lifted in January 2022.


“We have families, we have children, we have to make sure they go to school, and we think about their futures and what they’re going to become,” Williams said while fighting back tears.


NYCHA has previously said it would only pursue eviction cases for “extremely high” debt.


While a majority of funding from NYCHA comes from the federal government, the city provides “supplemental funding.” Mayor Adams’ executive budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which totals $106.7 billion, proposes $3.52 billion for NYCHA repairs over the next five years and another $1.51 billion for converting NYCHA units under the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together, or RAD/PACT program.


But the City Council is pushing for the city to boost that investment, calling in its budget response for $7.5 billion in capital funding for public housing over the next five years, as well as additional money to speed up renovations for thousands of vacant NYCHA apartments so that New Yorkers who need the units most can move in.


Council Member Alexa Aviles, who is the chair of the public housing committee, called for Mayor Adams to “step it up and invest in public housing,” which has seen decades of under-funding from all levels of government.


“Stop this nonsense of pointing to other governmental levels and saying ‘I don’t got it’—New York City has it,” Aviles said. “[The city] seems to give a lot of money to RAD-PACT conversions, not to Section 9 residents.”


Councilmember Charles Barron, led the crowd in another chant: “What do we want? Money for NYCHA. When do we want it? Now.”


“Because the money is there,” Barron said. “Don’t you be looking down on us because you’ve got us living in rat infested places—you’re not taking care of housing like you should, but in spite of your neglect, we still rise.”


Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa called the ask for rent relief a “drop in the bucket.”


“You think about a $106 billion budget—we’re asking for $400 million with an M,” De La Rosa said. “NYCHA tenants deserve more and we’re going to continue to stand with you until we see a budget that reflects the dignity that you have long deserved.”


Asked for comment on the push, the mayor’s office said the city has committed to providing at least $10 billion for NYCHA within the next decade, and that “the rehabilitation of our public housing stock a top priority,” for the administration.


A spokesperson also pointed to the administration’s work to help launch the Preservation Trust—the latest plan to raise funds for NYCHA repairs by transferring units from the Section 9 federal housing program, NYCHA’s current funding mechanism, to Section 8, another federal rental subsidy that’s worth roughly double the value.


“Mayor Adams has led and will continue to lead efforts to create the Public Housing Preservation Trust — which will allow us to leverage billions of additional dollars in the future — while winning state rental assistance funding for new NYCHA residents who were left out of the initial emergency rental assistance program,” a spokesperson for the mayor said. “We’re exploring opportunities for additional outside funding given the ongoing need among NYCHA residents.”


The story has been updated from initial publication to include a comment from the mayor’s office.

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