By Reverend Michel J. Faulkner
Eighty years ago, Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia established the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to provide a way out of poverty and create a brighter future for the poorest New Yorkers and their children. Until a generation or two ago, NYCHA families spawned City workers, doctors, lawyers, and teachers; NYCHA helped these families move into the middle class and beyond. They learned the same lessons that I did as a child. When I complained to my mother about the unfairness of racism, she told me, “Son, you have to work twice as hard,” and I did.
Today, NYCHA residents no longer learn that lesson or practice that mantra. Many of these communities have become gang-infested examples of a failed welfare state—a dead-end rather than a hopeful beginning. It is estimated that 650,000-plus New Yorkers live in public housing, where the requirement to stay is to surrender. The war on poverty, which started 50 years ago, has morphed into a decline in initiative. The bureaucracy, which was designed to help, has caused harm. Bureaucracy, coupled with a decline in self-initiative, has proven to be a stifling opiate.
Residents live in crumbling conditions—dirty hallways, broken-down elevators smelling of urine, garbage build-up, overflowing toilets, and broken boilers and sinks that lead to no heat and no hot water in the dead of winter every year. The City’s mismanagement of NYCHA makes these conditions nearly insurmountable. New York City has become the worst slumlord in the nation.
I’ve proposed a nine-point plan entitled The NYCHA Bill of Rights which will ensure that the 650,000-plus residents of these communities are treated fairly and with dignity. The NYCHA Bill of Rights is also aimed at improving basic conditions by giving long-term residents the ability to govern themselves through ownership of their apartments or an equity stake in their community. This will make NYCHA what it was supposed to be—a starting point for a brighter future instead of a hopeless dead-end. We should not build more housing to maintain poverty, but rather create pathways to a better life. The NYCHA Bill of Rights will give residents something they have needed, and lacked, for far too long—dignity.
NYCHA residents live in an unaffordable city, enduring both the terrible conditions and the stigma attached to public housing because they have no options. Selling or giving equity in NYCHA apartments to long-term residents, along with the responsibility of keeping them in good repair, is priceless. The NYCHA Bill of Rights will use dignity and equity to improve the lives of those living in public housing today and allow the City to have a positive impact, generationally, on current residents. This will create a ramp out of poverty into the middle class. Residents who see a pathway to owning their homes will value these homes and themselves. NYCHA residents have overwhelmingly supported The NYCHA Bill of Rights as a solution. Shouldn’t we all?