The Community Service Society issued an important report, Strengthening New York City’s Public Housing. Public housing has a terrible reputation in much of the country, but the New York City Housing Authority traditionally had the reputation, notwithstanding its real flaws, as the best large public housing system in the nation. This report makes a strong case that many of its current flaws are the result of systemic disinvestment at the federal, state and local levels in recent years. The report concludes,
the analysis confirms the reality of the appalling living conditions in NYCHA apartments reported by residents and the media for several years. But the Authority’s reputation or its competence should not be at issue; it performed relatively well until its resource base fell apart in the period following 2001. Government defunding was and is the root cause of the accelerating deterioration over the last decade. The state and city were major contributors to that decline, often at levels equivalent to the federal disinvestment. They should be open to a major role in restoring NYCHA.
Moreover, existing institutional arrangements that make NYCHA opaque to public scrutiny need to be changed—those that mask the Authority’s financial condition and its failures to comply with local housing and building codes—because they cloak the real consequences of government defunding and, as a result, deprive residents, advocates, concerned elected officials, and the interested public of the information they could use as ammunition to press for needed resources. The NYCHA Board also needs to be freer to act as a leading advocate for the Authority. Its governance structure should be reconsidered to assure the Board the independent voice it needs to better make the case for itself and its residents. (27)
The de Blasio Administration has made affordable housing a centerpiece of its agenda, so there is reason to think that this report will get its attention. Let us hope so — there is a lot of solid infrastructure which just needs its deferred maintenance issues addressed. But the report also highlights various operational changes that can lead to real improvements in the lives of NYCHA residents. These reforms could provide many low-income households with decent homes.