Big changes are underway at the city Housing Authority. But not big enough.
And with no guarantee that the reform drive won’t peter out once the heat is off — and with NYCHA, you know the heat will go off, sooner or later.
The authority’s biggest union just agreed to a new contract that includes commonsense work-rule changes that the last NYCHA chief, Shola Olatoye, pushed hard for — but couldn’t get, because City Hall wouldn’t back her up.
NYCHA also has embraced a host of money-raising changes that not long ago were also political nonstarters: Selling off air rights to private developers and letting the private sector build on NYCHA-owned land, plus a huge expansion of participation in the federal RAD program, which privatizes management of public-housing complexes.
Ideologues have been resisting all those reforms for years, calling it “privatization” — which Mayor de Blasio still insists he opposes, even as he’s swallowing a ton of it.
Yet all those changes promise to bring in only $16 billion of the authority’s $32 billion in capital needs — and that’s over 10 years, by which time those needs are expected to be $40 billion.
Even with $8 billion in new state and city aid, it’s not enough: More change must come, or it’s back to the same downward spiral.
These reforms only became thinkable because a Sword of Damocles is hanging over everything — the chance that federal Judge William Pauley may put NYCHA into receivership, taking control away from the city.
De Blasio is selling the reforms in part by warning this would destroy public housing altogether. Yet the mayor’s still clinging to his ideology — notably, settling for less money from private developers to keep “affordable housing” strings on those deals.
In short, neither NYCHA’s culture, nor the city’s political culture, has really changed; these are just concessions in a crunch.
That’s the pickle for Judge Pauley, who ordered the city and US Attorney Geoffrey Berman into court Friday with a new plan for a NYCHA turnaround: Whatever ideas they offer, he needs to keep that sword hanging over City Hall. Keep the fear alive!
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