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March 1, 2023

Years have passed since public housing in New York City received adequate funding from the government to address the deteriorating structures, erratic heating systems, broken elevators, vermin, and other issues that have made it a symbol of neglect.

The nation’s oldest and largest public housing system is currently experiencing a problem that could get worse due to residents’ declining rent payments.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that more than 1,600 public housing agencies nationwide, from those in Richmond, Virginia, to San Francisco, have seen a “significant decrease” in collections as a result of tenants missing work or spending more on cleaning supplies and other safety precautions. They were able to skip payments without worrying about losing their homes when evictions were suspended.

Local agencies had to cope with the implications because it was sometimes difficult to get assistance to help cover the mountains of unpaid rent or left individuals in public housing out totally.

Yet, nowhere has the situation been as bad as in New York.

In the 12 months prior to December, the New York City Housing Authority only received 65% of the rent it had charged, the lowest percentage in the organization’s almost 100-year history and a worrying decline from the yearly pre-pandemic rates of 90% or higher.

The rent issues are a new setback for an institution that, despite its numerous flaws, is crucial to New York, offering some of the city’s few truly affordable houses in one of the most expensive cities in the country. 340,000 people live in the more than 270 projects owned and managed by NYCHA.

Yet, the over $500 million shortfall poses a threat to the agency’s capacity to maintain daily operations, fix leaking roofs and broken elevators, as well as perform the extensive construction work necessary to address lead, mold, and other deplorable conditions in thousands of buildings. Rent may be withheld as a result of the irate residents.

The cost is already being felt by the agency. It terminated around 150 open positions this year and dozens of contracts for legal, financial, and administrative tasks. Additionally, NYCHA has been using up its meager financial reserves, which are so low that they are not even enough to pay for one month’s worth of bills.

The public housing program in New York was previously praised for giving working-class residents dependable, secure housing. The federal government’s departure from the housing market, however, has left it at the center of one of the city’s most pressing challenges and a prominent example of its impacts. To restore its complexes to livable conditions, NYCHA predicts that it will require an astounding $40 billion.

In order to pressure NYCHA to fix its issues, a monitor was appointed as part of a 2019 deal with the federal government. The monitor gave the agency a mixed review of its performance. For instance, according to the monitor, 108 elevators were to be replaced by the end of 2022.

In an effort to reduce reliance on erratic government funding, Mayor Eric Adams of New York is pushing a divisive plan to hand over the operation of the city’s housing buildings to the private sector. The city announced earlier this month that it has either finished or started renovating 36,000 apartments as part of the plan between 2015 and the year’s end.

The typical rent cap is 30% of resident income, and it is changed if a household’s income changes. The organization received more than 500,000 requests for rent changes between 2019 and 2021.

The overall amount of rent payable has increased despite several changes.

One of the biggest issues is the way New York’s now-empty epidemic rent relief program was created by the state’s legislators. Because lawmakers believed tenants of public housing had access to other safety nets, they were given the lowest priority among those eligible for help.

Governor Kathy Hochul and state legislative leaders have not committed to providing additional funding, and it is unclear that the federal money would be replenished now that Republicans, who have regularly attacked NYCHA, are in charge of the House of Representatives.

This implies that unpaid back rent is now a new source of ongoing anxiety for the tens of thousands of NYCHA residents who are already coping with the effects of failing buildings.

NYCHA said that it had previously applied for rent credits and abatements totaling close to $9,500 and that no additional abatements had been agreed to.