By Penny Mintz
NYCHA buildings all over the city, including the Fulton Houses in West Chelsea, are in dire need of repairs. That’s a well-known fact. Those repairs will cost approximately $40,000,000,000—another well-known fact.
“Forty billion dollars!” NYCHA chairperson Greg Russ is reported to have said, “Where am I going to get forty billion dollars?”
When federal housing funds were squeezed to a drip by a Senate opposed to all spending on social programs, the Obama administration established the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) in 2011 in an attempt to deal with a backlog of deferred maintenance. RAD and its NYC incarnation called PACT (Permanent Affordability Commitment Together) allow NYCHA to transfer buildings to private property managers through long-term leases which must be renewed in perpetuity. The new private landlords keep the rents they collect as well as the federal funding that NYCHA received from HUD. Unlike NYCHA, the private managers are able to take on debt to finance repairs.
The problem with RAD is that, ultimately, the goal of a private management company is to maximize profits. There is supposed to be protective oversight, but that oversight has proved to be insufficient. In 2018 the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that one-third of all RAD conversions included no repairs. Tenants displaced during renovations faced illegal screening for readmission. Renovations were generally of poorer quality than those made by public entities. Fifty-seven percent of tenants experienced rent increases. Private managers interfered with tenants’ rights to organize.
RAD/PACT buildings have more aggressively pursued evictions. Tenants in RAD/PACT buildings have been forced into leases that reduced their rights, but often increased their rents; and managements have utterly failed to improve their living conditions.
Last month, U.S. District Judge William Pauley III found that tenants who had RAD leases had signed away their rights to the protection of the mold agreement that Judge Pauley himself had fashioned with NYCHA in 2014 after the judge learned of the “breathtaking scope” of squalid conditions under the city’s mismanagement of the agency. Under the new leases, the RAD management company had freed itself from any legally enforceable obligation to clean up the mold.
RAD/PACT was originally a pilot program. The only rationale for switching buildings from NYCHA management to private management was to find a source of funding for the $40 billion in deferred repairs. However, in light of Senator Chuck Schumer’s announcement last month that, beginning in June, NYCHA will be getting $40 billion to meet all its capital needs, the basis for further RAD/PACT transfer has been eliminated.
Arthur Schwartz, city council candidate, who recently sued NYCHA to get cooking gas returned to tenants of Fulton Houses on West 19th Street for the first time since February, has told NYCHA tenants, “It’s very likely that sometime in June, NYCHA is going to get $40 billion to fix every last piece of these falling-apart buildings that you live in.” In light of the expected federal funds, Schwartz wrote a letter to NYCHA Chairman Greg Russ demanding that NYCHA “cease all efforts to get NYCHA tenants to sign leases with PACT participant C&C Apartment Management,” which is managing the Fulton Houses.
In further moves to save NYCHA housing, Schwartz filed a class-action lawsuit on May 25th on behalf of all NYCHA residents to block further RAD/PACT conversions, and on May 28th he filed for an order to hold Greg Russ in contempt of court for failing to follow the court order to exterminate the rats, clean up the garbage, and return cooking gas to Fulton Houses.
On a happier note, on June 1st Schwartz threw a party for NYCHA residents in the park at 19th Street and Ninth Avenue to celebrate the return of the cooking gas.
Penny Mintz is a supporter of the Arthur Schwartz campaign.