Why Can’t de Blasio’s Housing Authority Keep the Heat On?

“Most of the winter we didn’t have heat and hot water,” says Juanita Jefferson, 60, a resident of the Breukelen Houses public housing development in Canarsie. “We never had a problem like this before. I had to pull out my extra clothes, walk around in blankets. I have heaters in every room.”

Her neighbor Annette Tomlin, 55, says she went two weeks without heat or hot water during the January cold wave. “I’m kind of accustomed to it now,” says Tienico Ragland, 37, who lives in the attached building next door.

The Breukelen residents are not alone. The New York City Housing Authority estimates that by early February, 80 percent of its 180,000 apartments had gone without heat or hot water at least once this winter, affecting more than 320,000 people. Breukelen Houses Tenant Association president Calvin Drumgo says he’s been getting “23 to 24 calls a day” from tenants complaining about it. On February 27, a group of NYCHA tenant leaders from across the city filed a lawsuit demanding that a judge appoint an independent monitor to force the authority to provide consistent heat and hot water, among other complaints.

On a recent weekend afternoon, however, the three-story buildings on Glenwood Road have the opposite problem. With the temperature a relatively balmy 40 degrees, the heat is blazing.

“If it’s freezing outside, don’t expect heat. If it’s warm outside, expect heat,” says Ragland, standing in her orange-painted hallway wearing a light summer dress.

“It fails to regulate,” says Tomlin, a freelance healthcare office worker who’s lived in her first-floor apartment for 23 years. She says tenants go from “like a sauna” to “shivering like you’re in Alaska.”

Breukelen residents say the complex’s boilers haven’t been replaced since the development opened in 1952. The New York State Homes and Community Renewal agency projects the “useful life” of a steel boiler at 25 years. Drumgo says NYCHA has promised the development will get a new boiler in 2020 — two winters away. (Neither NYCHA nor the City Hall press office responded to multiple requests for comment from the Voice.)

The repair problems at the Breukelen Houses are just part of a larger crisis threatening to overwhelm the city’s housing authority. Decades of government disinvestment coupled with aging buildings have increased the backlog in NYCHA’s capital budget, which covers major renovations such as replacing roofs and boilers, to more than $20 billion, estimates Community Service Society senior housing policy analyst Victor Bach, more than triple what the gap was in 2011.

This, he says, would only be worsened by President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2019, which would “effectively eliminate capital subsidies” to NYCHA, cutting them by $210 million. It also proposes reducing operating subsidies by $130 million and raising rents by 17 percent or more for many tenants.

NYCHA, says Bach, is “moving in the right direction, but clearly not enough to deal with critical problems” like boiler upkeep.


The Breukelen Houses development, pronounced “Brook-Ellen” by its residents, consists of thirty buildings spread over five blocks near the East 105th Street stop on the L line. It’s relatively low-rise as city projects go, with some buildings three stories tall and others seven. The 1,595 units officially have 3,605 residents, according to NYCHA figures; Drumgo says the actual number is more than 5,000 thanks to off-the-books family members and roommates.

When the development opened on November 6, 1952, it combined the social benevolence of the New Deal — the belief that the government should help working people move from overcrowded tenements to spacious, clean, new apartments — with the optimistic prosperity of postwar America. With hundreds of new single-family and two-family homes also built in the neighborhood, Canarsie’s population more than doubled between 1950 and 1970.

That era ended in the 1970s. Many of Canarsie’s white residents had arrived after fleeing the nearby neighborhoods, leaving Brownsville and East New York as crime rates went up as those areas became predominantly black, and East Flatbush as “blockbusting” realtors panicked white homeowners into believing they’d get stuck in a ghetto if they didn’t quickly sell their homes at half price. Canarsie’s white residents violently resisted black people moving in and black kids being bused into neighborhood schools, as several houses sold to black families were firebombed.

South of Linden Boulevard, then the boundary between Canarsie and Brownsville, the Breukelen Houses were home to the neighborhood’s largest concentration of black residents. The project was fairly evenly mixed between whites and blacks in 1970, sociologist Jonathan Rieder wrote in Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn Against Liberalism; by 2000, it was about 90 percent black, with most of the other residents Latinos.

That year, the election of Ronald Reagan, whose social Darwinist worldview expressed resentment of taxpayers subsidizing the “dependency” of the undeserving, led to 50 percent cuts in federal aid for low-income housing, while residents of federally subsidized housing were hit with rent increases. In 1998, Governor George Pataki cut off state subsidies, leaving NYCHA with a $60 million a year budget shortfall; a few years later, Mayor Michael Bloomberg cut off additional city subsidies. By 2006, NYCHA was running an operating deficit of more than $200 million a year. Between 2002 and 2016, the authority’s total staff, serving 326 developments with 2,462 buildings, was reduced from about 15,000 to 11,000.

The budget cuts have taken a particular toll on the workers who maintain NYCHA buildings’ aging boilers. The number of heating plant technicians has fallen from 370 in 2012 to 256 today, and that includes 12 who came on the job in January, says Kevin Norman, director of the housing division of Teamsters Local 237, which represents them.

NYCHA’s intention “was to shrink administrative positions, but front-line management and caretaking staff at the developments were also affected,” the Community Service Society wrote in a March 2017 report, “Public Housing: New York’s Third City.” “Tightened resources meant poorer management and fewer repairs or improvements to its aging buildings.” By 2014, the city’s triennial Housing and Vacancy Survey found more than one-third of public housing residents reporting at least three problems such as lack of heat, rodents, and water leaks, more than 50 percent more than residents of privately owned housing — a gap that escalated sharply after 2008.

Meanwhile, as rents in private housing soared, NYCHA, where rents are generally set at 30 percent of household income, became the main source of housing for New Yorkers who make less than $40,000 a year. By 2014, based on income figures from the Housing and Vacancy Survey, NYCHA buildings must have accounted for more than half the 333,000 apartments in the city that rented for less than $800 a month.

“Unlike lower-income tenants in the private rental market, their crisis is not affordability, but whether they can survive the deterioration of their buildings and homes, and the institutional failings of an authority attempting to stem the decline with only marginal support,” the CSS “Third City” report said.

In 2015, a city comptroller’s audit ranked the Breukelen Houses’ repair backlog worst among NYCHA developments in Brooklyn, with 897 “noncurrent work orders” as of the previous July, and 44 outstanding Department of Buildings violations and 6 outstanding Environmental Control Board violations as of the previous September.

Tenants at Breukelen Houses complain about the slowness of repairs. Several apartments have plaster bubbling out of the walls from water leaks. In one woman’s home, the flap over the door peephole is a piece of duct tape.

“When it rains, I have to put down rags,” says Jefferson, who’s lived in Breukelen since 1983. “I’ve seen this project go down terribly. It used to be beautiful out here. It was great living.”


In his State of the City speech this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio said his administration has put $2.1 billion in city money into major capital investments in NYCHA, and $1.6 billion for operating expenses, intended to reduce the authority’s ordinary-repair backlog. That, he added, has paid for “almost a thousand new roofs for residents who suffered from mold and leaks” and “new boilers and heating systems in the developments that need it the most.”

“The City of New York under my administration has, pound for pound, year for year, contributed more to NYCHA than ever before in history,” he told WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer on February 16. De Blasio also stopped charging NYCHA more than $70 million a year for police services , and has committed $100 million a year for roof replacements. But he told Lehrer that the added $2.1 billion in capital funds had to be spread over several years to be spent “effectively.” The maintenance problems at Breukelen Houses go deeper than money, says Calvin Drumgo. The individual manager at Breukelen is good, he says; asked what’s causing the overall problems, he gives an all-of-the-above answer: “Mismanagement. The lack of funds. The lack of workers. The lack of workmanship. The lack of leadership at 250 Broadway [NYCHA headquarters]. There’s no accountability for heat and hot water, which is something fundamental for people to live.”

The city is also in the process of leasing vacant land such as parking lots at four public housing projects to developers, to construct buildings that would be half market-rate and half “affordable.” Half the proceeds would go to the affected project, and the other half to NYCHA’s general fund. In January, the city announced that it had selected Two Trees and Arker Companies — both significant contributors to de Blasio’s campaigns — as developers to build 500 units at Wyckoff Gardens in downtown Brooklyn. These plans have drawn opposition from residents who say they haven’t been given a voice in the process and fear they would bring more gentrification than repairs.

NYCHA management is so centralized, Norman says, that workers need approval from the borough office to buy light bulbs. To keep heating systems functioning, he notes, you need enough workers to monitor boilers continually and check pipes constantly. Yet the authority has let the heating staff dwindle through attrition, while asking Local 237 to stop training workers on the grounds that the union’s program needed to be revamped.

Victor Bach adds that NYCHA needs to reform its management to make it more effective. Only in 2016 did it extend its hours so development managers and maintenance staff are available after 4:30 p.m., he notes.

The way the authority handles heat complaints lacks transparency, he adds. NYCHA is required to comply with the city’s heat laws, but complaints about heat in public housing go not to the city’s main 311 number, but to NYCHA’s internal hotline. (If residents call 311, they’re told to call that hotline.) Unlike privately owned buildings, violations and complaints at NYCHA buildings aren’t listed online by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of Buildings. And if NYCHA fails to make repairs, it’s not subject to HPD’s Emergency Repair Program, in which the city hires contractors and bills the owner. All this should change, Bach says.

NYCHA has also not provided information on the age of its buildings’ boilers to Bronx Democratic councilmember Ritchie Torres — “something we’ve been requesting for some time,” says a Torres spokesperson.*

“We need things to be addressed right here, right now. It’s just excuse after excuse after excuse after excuse,” Tomlin says, sitting on her couch, pointing out the duct tape on her radiator. “Housing shouldn’t have waited 25 years to look at something you knew was going to depreciate.”

“I’m blessed. I’m grateful,” says a 56-year-old woman who doesn’t want to give her name. “But I shouldn’t have to live like this.”

Over the winter, she says, she kept her oven on at night so the apartment would be warm when she got up at 4 a.m. to get ready for work as a fraud investigator.

“I work hard. I work twelve hours a day,” she says. “I should be able to come home to a nice decent comfortable apartment.”

*UPDATE: A spokesperson for Councilmember Torres emailed after publication to say that “the Council received the information on Feb. 5th, the day before the hearing on boilers.” The Voice has requested data on the ages of NYCHA boilers and is awaiting more details.


‘That Damn Hole Gave My Son Lead Poisoning’

Last Tuesday morning, Sherron Paige and three of her neighbors from Red Hook East, one of the city’s oldest public housing projects, split a cab to lower Manhattan. Members of the City Council were set to grill New York City Housing Authority chair Shola Olatoye on the agency’s growing lead paint scandal, and Paige had been promised a chance to share her story. So, after taking a personal day from her job as a NYCHA custodial worker, Paige ascended the steps of City Hall to accuse Olatoye and the city of New York — both her boss and her landlord — of poisoning her four-year-old son, Kyan.

Back in November, a bombshell report from the New York City Department of Investigation revealed that the city stopped conducting required lead paint safety inspections in public housing in 2013, then knowingly lied about the inspections to federal authorities. Grabbing a seat near the front of the unusually packed council chambers, Paige watched as the councilmembers, led by the chair of the Committee on Public Housing, Ritchie Torres, spent four hours tearing into the embattled NYCHA leader on the wide-ranging failure, and questioning why the public was not immediately notified once the lapse was discovered.

Admitting that “communication could have been more precise,” Olatoye refused to answer repeated questions about when, exactly, she first learned that the agency was issuing false compliance reports.

“You don’t recall?” Torres pressed. “I find that incredible.”

When the councilmembers’ questions for Olatoye had finished, she exited the chamber alongside her staff, followed by a gaggle of reporters. Many of the aggrieved tenants, having only taken off work for the morning, left as well. But Paige hung around, waiting patiently as DOI Commissioner Mark Peters testified that it was still unclear how many apartments had tested positive for lead, and how many had not been properly tested at all.

When Peters was finished, Torres thanked him for his testimony, then announced that he’d be concluding the hearing early, on account of a “personal emergency.”

“That made me so mad,” Paige, thirty-four, recalls. “How they gonna talk about us like we’re not here, then just dismiss us like that?”

Most of the information gleaned from the hearing, Paige fumes, had been apparent to anyone living in NYCHA housing even before the DOI’s report came out. “They don’t listen to the people who actually live in these buildings,” she remembers thinking.

So instead of leaving, Paige marched defiantly to the front of the council chamber, holding a photo of Kyan. “My son is affected by elevated lead levels,” she announced to the room, as the councilmembers packed their things. “He’s lived in Red Hook since the day he was born, and I still don’t know if he’s safe.”


Paige learned that her son was at risk for lead poisoning this past summer — over a year after both Olatoye and Mayor Bill de Blasio were made aware of the gap in lead paint inspections, but months before they got around to informing tenants. She was compacting trash in Red Hook, one of her responsibilities as a NYCHA worker, when someone from the city health department called her with the news: A routine checkup had shown Kyan’s blood-lead levels were at 12 micrograms per deciliter, significantly higher than the maximum acceptable level of 5.

Immediately, Paige thought of the large hole in her wall, the result of a burst pipe, that exposed layers of paint in the hallway just outside Kyan’s bedroom. Over the past two years, she says, she’s filed at least half a dozen maintenance requests to fix both the pipe and the wall, to no avail. “I still couldn’t believe it,” she says. “That damn hole gave my son lead poisoning.”

While the initial diagnosis left her confused and angry, Paige says it also helped “connect some of the dots.” Kyan had hit all his milestones as a baby, but had started showing signs of a learning disability as a toddler. “He still struggles to form sentences,” Paige says. “He can’t hold a pencil like the other kids, and throws tantrums in class when he gets frustrated — it’s a lot for him.” Days before the hearing, Paige met with Kyan’s pre-K teacher and principal, who recommended he be placed in special education classes when he starts kindergarten next year.

Shortly before that, Mayor de Blasio had belatedly admitted to NYCHA’s lead paint inspection failures, saying he’d been informed of “the possibility of non-compliance” in March 2016. He said residents should have been told of the “whole picture” sooner, and defended Olatoye, whom he appointed in 2014. “Thank God,” the mayor told reporters, “there has not been harm done to any child because of the mistakes that were made.”

In the weeks since, as the mayor has dug in his heels on the claim that no was hurt, Paige’s voice has been among the loudest to challenge that narrative. As the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed last month, she’s alleging that the housing authority “knowingly and intentionally” failed to inspect her apartment for lead, and ignored repeated requests to fix the gaping hole in the wall adjacent to her son’s bedroom. “Kyan suffered serious and permanent injury as a result of NYCHA’s actions,” the suit claims.

Even after Kyan’s diagnosis, NYCHA steadfastly refused to acknowledge Paige’s apartment contained lead, despite an inspection from the city health department that determined this was the case. Only after the health department conducted a second test of the apartment’s dust, in which it again found lead, did NYCHA concede that something should be done. Finally, in October, a NYCHA employee arrived to cover and repaint the hole in the wall adjacent to Kyan’s bedroom, just as Paige had been requesting for years.

Reached for comment, mayoral spokesperson Olivia Lapeyrolerie maintained that there have been no medical consequences for any children in NYCHA housing as the result of lead exposure, and refused to comment directly on the lawsuit’s allegations. Asked directly about Paige, the mayor said he was “not going to speak to an allegation,” and assured reporters that this has been the “opposite” of an “ongoing, pervasive, continuous health problem.”

According to Paige and her attorney, Corey Stern, the city’s refusal to acknowledge the consequences of its actions may be putting thousands of children in harm’s way. “The universe of people affected by what NYCHA didn’t do and covered up is six times larger than the total population of Flint, Michigan,” Stern, who is the lead counsel for all plaintiffs in Flint, told the Voice. “It’s so much worse than people realize, and they don’t even know where to begin to fix the problems they’ve created.”


If Mayor de Blasio has met the lead scandal’s victims with deflection and denial, the city’s housing authority has taken that strategy a step further, actively blaming tenants for the lapse in inspections. On Saturday, the Daily News reported that NYCHA has been sending “breach of lease” notices to dozens of Red Hook tenants with young children, chiding them for a “failure to comply with [lead-based] paint regulations” and warning that eviction may be imminent. While a NYCHA spokesperson claimed the letters were sent accidentally, no one from the housing authority or mayor’s office has been able to explain how such an accident could have happened. (Neither has responded to Voice queries on the subject.)

“To hide this information from those who were impacted most is extremely alarming, but then to threaten eviction for NYCHA’s failures is truly disgusting,” Public Advocate Letitia James, who has called for Olatoye’s resignation, said in a statement to the Voice. “This is a case of blaming the victim and it is past time that NYCHA is held accountable.”

The exterior of 791 Hicks Street, where Paige and her two sons have lived since 2013.

But holding the country’s largest public housing authority accountable to its 400,000 tenants has proved challenging, particularly when most of those residents are systematically excluded from regular inspections. Currently, NYCHA claims that it’s not required to regularly inspect 123,000 out of its 178,000 apartments — either because those apartments were built after 1960, when lead paint was banned (though still sometimes used) in city residences, or because the authority obtained a waiver from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development certifying the apartments as lead-free. Paige’s apartment fell into that latter group of exemptions, because the authority claims her apartment was inspected and remediated after the prior tenant moved out in 2012.

One likely explanation for this erroneous designation, and an untold number of others like it, is that the vast majority of NYCHA workers lack the federally required training to rid apartments of lead. Olatoye admitted as much at Tuesday’s hearing, noting that only thirty of NYCHA’s hundreds of employees had obtained the Environmental Protection Agency’s certification as of 2016. Asked if the authority planned on doing something about the thousands of apartments that may have been wrongfully exempted, she responded, “We can operate with what we know, and the data right now tells us that the 55,000 units [that weren’t exempted] are where we need to focus our attention.”


What NYCHA elects to do now, and what it may be forced to next, remains an open question. The DOI’s probe is ongoing, and a federal investigation into health and safety conditions at NYCHA apartments, launched last year by then–U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, will soon be completed, and could potentially result in a court-appointed federal monitor. Already, two top NYCHA officials have resigned, and a growing number of councilmembers, along with Letitia James, are calling on Olatoye to step down. For now, the chair maintains Mayor de Blasio’s support, though he too may be forced to re-evaluate his position that there’s been “very little impact from any of this.”

Meanwhile, NYCHA has a $17 billion backlog in capital funding needs and, under President Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint, faces a 20 percent cut to its operating budget — money that goes toward, among other things, lead remediation and janitorial salaries. In an attempt to avoid what Ritchie Torres has called a “financial death spiral,” the housing authority has embraced a controversial plan that involves leasing NYCHA land to private developers and cutting administrative staff. If a HUD rule change goes through, NYCHA tenants may soon see the percentage of income they pay in rent increase for the first time since 1981.

As for Paige, she says she’s focused on monitoring her son, and that her longer-term goal is to find a new apartment. As Kyan shoots a mini-basketball in the freshly painted hallway, where the contours of the hole are still partially visible, she shares an alarming statistic she recently learned: Of 113 Red Hook East apartments tested by NYCHA between 2013 and 2015, lead paint was found in 105 of them. How the city could have known this and still allowed her apartment to go years without an inspection, while simultaneously ignoring her repeated maintenance requests to fix an obvious lead paint hazard, is a question she’s still seeking an answer to.

“That they knew and didn’t do anything, I just don’t understand that,” she says. “Don’t sit here and tell me everything’s fine. My son got hurt — tell me what you’re going to do about that.”



NYC May Not Finish Sandy Repairs Before Next Storm Hits

Even though Superstorm Sandy feels like it hit ages ago — Obama was still campaigning for his second term, for crying out loud — it should come as no surprise that as we arrive at the fifth anniversary of the storm on Sunday, recovery efforts remain underway. Officials warned us at the time that it could be one of the most “expensive and extensive” storm recovery efforts in American history. And it has been, at least until the next one hits.

Just this week, researchers from Rutgers University found that New York City could experience Sandy-like storm surges every five years by the middle of the century. The implications would be vast and profound: If Sandy recovery efforts are any indicator, it means we wouldn’t even finish repairs from one storm before another knocked us back down again. Hopefully, the various stakeholders in the Sandy recovery efforts, from federal to state to local actors, have learned a great deal over the last five years, because the only certainty is that, at some point, we will have to do this all over again.

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Some projects to repair and upgrade both housing and transportation networks have gone better than expected, like the Montague Tube subway tunnel repairs that shut down the R train between Brooklyn and Manhattan for thirteen months but finished early and under budget. Others have not. Some haven’t even begun yet.


The New York City Housing Authority says some 80,000 residents in more than 400 buildings were “significantly affected” by Sandy. “Many,” the Authority goes on to say in a fact sheet published on October 17, “are still feeling the impact today.”

One big reason for the slow pace of repairs was that it took three years for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to award a $3 billion grant for the recovery work. That meant NYCHA couldn’t actually begin to use that money until this year. Work now being done at 33 developments across Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island includes repairs for Sandy damage, replacing temporary boilers installed after the storm with permanent ones, and resiliency work to prevent extensive damage and power outages in future storms. Of the 33 projects, 17 are currently under construction and one is completed. NYCHA expects to begin construction on the remaining projects by the end of the year; you can track their progress on the Authority’s website.

For private housing, in June 2013, Mayor Bloomberg announced the Build It Back Program, a city initiative to help homeowners build or renovate their homes because of damage from Sandy or elevate them to help stay above the next storm. The program, although well-intentioned, has been widely criticized for being slow and bureaucratic. On the third anniversary of Sandy, de Blasio promised to complete every construction project in Build It Back by the end of 2016. That didn’t happen. According to a recent ABC News report, “nearly 1,000 families are waiting for construction to be completed,” which is another way of saying their homes have still not been rebuilt from a storm that hit five years ago. De Blasio’s new target is to have all construction finished by the spring.

Breezy Point in the Rockaways lost 350 homes to storm surge and fire when Sandy struck on October 29, 2012.


Much of the MTA’s Sandy recovery work was a triumph. The storm hit on a Monday, and despite unprecedented flooding in every major tube, service on fifteen subway lines resumed that Thursday (albeit without service below 34th Street or between Manhattan and Brooklyn) and on most Metro-North lines the following day. It took only one week to restore full rush hour service across the system.

Still, a massive amount of work remained to actually repair the damage. Most of that work is now completed, but one East River tunnel yet to be fixed will be the biggest pain of all: Repairs on the Canarsie Tube will require the L train to shut down, beginning in April 2019 and lasting for fifteen months of misery for the 225,000 people who commute via the L across the river every weekday.

But the Canarsie Tube is not the next nor the last tunnel that needs repairing thanks to Sandy. Currently, 2 and 3 trains don’t run between Manhattan and Brooklyn on weekends as the MTA repairs the Clark Street Tube, work that started in the spring of this year and is expected to be completed in the spring of 2018. The agency also plans to close the F train’s Rutgers Tube on weekends starting in 2022 for similar repairs. And all that repair work says nothing of the “fortify” bit of the Fix & Fortify plan, which involves installing rapidly deploying covers over 5,600 street openings so stations don’t flood, and on which progress has been painfully slow.

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The MTA is also working on a thirty-mile section of the Metro-North Hudson Line, replacing and fortifying power, communication, and signal infrastructure. While service disruptions remain fairly minimal, the work is not expected to be completed until January.

The honor of the final Sandy recovery effort may go to Amtrak. The national rail agency recently announced it is planning to wait eight more freaking years to begin repairs to its East River tunnels, which are heavily used by the Long Island Rail Road. Apparently, the plan is to wait for the East Side Access project to be completed so LIRR trains have another route into Manhattan while the current tunnels are repaired. This is a bit like waiting for the apocalypse (the real one, not of the L train variety), as completion of the East Side Access has been repeatedly delayed: It was initially scheduled to be finished in 2009 — a whole three years before Sandy — but, after a series of pushbacks, is now set for 2023.

All this means that Amtrak doesn’t plan on repairing damage from Sandy until thirteen years after it hit. By then, it probably won’t even be designated Sandy repair work. It’ll be repairs for whatever the next storm is to strike by then.






Trump’s Assault On NYC’s Social Safety Net Begins With $35 Million Cut To NYCHA

The federal government has slashed $35 million from NYCHA’s budget, immediately imperiling the city’s already unsteady public housing authority, which has only recently begun to take steps towards a financial recovery following years of neglect from Washington. These cuts are taking place even before the nation’s Republican-controlled government begins to iron out a budget which will certainly see even deeper cuts to the social safety net, including public housing and Section 8 vouchers.

NYCHA says that the cuts include $27.7 million in operating funds, and 7.7 million for section 8 vouchers.

“This fits right into the right-wing conservative vision of dismantling the urban safety net, at the heart of which is public housing,” said City Councilmember Ritchie Torres, the chair of the Committee on Public Housing. “This represents the first salvo in Donald Trump’s war on public housing, on the poor, and his war on New York City.”

Torres told the Voice that the budget cuts were made when HUD “manipulated” the formula that allocates already-budgeted funds to NYCHA, that he was briefed on the cuts a week ago. He says the cuts will bite into NYCHA’s current budget immediately.

“This is going to destabilize the operations of an unstable public housing authority. NYCHA has been so savagely starved of operating capital funding, that it cannot afford to absorb a new level of budget cuts,” Torres said. “It was on a precipice before Donald Trump. Donald Trump will now throw it off the precipice.”

In a statement, Scott Stringer, the city’s comptroller, said “And so it begins. We all have long known that leadership in Washington seeks to shred the social safety net by slashing funding for those who need it most…Now, it’s happening — and it’s starting with NYCHA. The White House is actively targeting our most vulnerable citizens. It’s wrong.”

As of 2015, the authority had already posted a staggering capital debt of $17.1 billion. In response, the de Blasio administration launched its NextGen Neighborhoods program, which sought to sell off underutilized land owned by NYCHA for market-rate and affordable development. That plan has already met fierce resistance from NYCHA tenants who believe the program won’t come close to filling NYCHA’s budget gaps, while, in turn, speeding up gentrification of the surrounding neighborhoods.

In the short term, Torres feels that NYCHA can hand over more responsibilities, like sanitation and sidewalk repairs, to the city government, helping to alleviate its financial burdens. But even then, he admits, “there’s no magic bullet.”

“Infill and NextGen faces fierce resistance from tenants already,” Torres said. “I’m skeptical that it would generate the revenue that it promises. It’s a one-time infusion. It’s a marginal improvement, but hardly the future.”

NYCHA is already bracing for more cuts once the budget process plays out in Washington, but with city services sure to be slashed across the board, there might not be enough money to plug the gap that HUD has already blown.

Over the first fifty days of his presidency, Donald Trump has cost taxpayers $56.6 million to protect Trump Tower in Manhattan, as well as over $3 million for every trip he takes down to Mar-a-Lago for weekends.


Ben Carson Needs To Read NYCHA’s Latest Report

Dr. Ben Carson, who has no experience in the fields of housing or urban development, is on his way to being confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. After surviving a Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, the Voice has some suggested reading for the secretary-in-waiting.

The neurosurgeon from Baltimore cited his time as a doctor in one of America’s poorest cities more than a few times throughout the hearing. “There is a strong connection between housing and health, which is of course my background,” he said in his opening statement, noting that “low-income and minority families” are particularly affected by “substandard housing conditions.”

“Giving them hope starts with giving them a safe and productive environment,” he said later. “Understanding how you create those environments is something that I think is going to make a very big difference.”

If Carson means what he says, he might want to pick up a copy of the New York City Housing Authority’s latest report, released at the Center for Architecture just hours after his confirmation hearing in D.C. The document spells out new design guidelines for renovating public housing, covering everything from kitchen cabinets and boilers to permeable pavements and roof replacement.

The end goal is to improve the quality of life in public housing, with a particular focus on health.

For example, the guidelines discourage fenced-in green areas in favor of more open public spaces. This could have a big impact, said Columbia University architecture professor Lee Altman, because the total amount of park and public space at NYCHA properties is more than twice the size of Central Park.

The new guidelines also encourage better materials. “It’s not just, ‘This is nice, we like the colors of this,’ but, ‘How is this improving air quality?’” said said Bruce Eisenberg, deputy director of NYCHA’s design office.

So, will Carson pick up on NYCHA’s latest work?

“There’s a health and housing connection,” Deborah Goddard, NYCHA’s executive vice president for capital projects, said in response to a question from the Voice. “Doing it right, designing it well, speaks to creating a healthier environment for our residents. I think it’s an equation that’s straightforward and simple, and I’m glad he endorsed it.”

While many professionals in the field are despairing over Carson’s appointment, NYCHA has kept its public statements about the nominee cautious but positive. After all, despite generations of funding cuts, the feds continue to provide a majority of NYCHA’s revenue.

Without that funding, it’s impossible to put even the best design guidelines into action. But NYCHA has suffered a 30 percent cut in capital funding since 2001, Goddard said, amounting to a $1.1 billion loss. Over the same period, the authority has lost $1.05 billion in operating funding. There’s little hope that a Trump-Carson regime would do anything but cut budgets even more.

During the question-and-answer session, architect Herbert Oppenheimer, who worked on NYCHA projects in the 1960s and 70s, reminded the audience that quality design for public housing is not a new idea. Then he brought up the funding question.

“I don’t want to depress all of you, but I do think that heralding these wonderful design guidelines is a little bit like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic,” he said. “Hopefully four years from now we can really bring funding back.”

The audience laughed. Then it applauded.


Free Wi-Fi Coming to Brownsville, Harlem, the Bronx, and Housing Projects in Brooklyn

On the heels of a report that New York’s tech sector grew faster than almost any other city’s–becoming the city’s second-largest industry this year–comes more good tech news.

Mayor Bloomberg announced Monday the city will be rolling out free and public wireless corridors to 10 neighborhoods in December.

Alongside monied enclaves like Flatiron and the Financial District, lower-income areas like Brownsville, Harlem, the Bronx, and a slice of downtown Brooklyn encompassing two housing projects will be getting free access to the Internet.


The full list includes downtown Brooklyn’s “Tech Triangle,” Water Street between Whitehall and Fulton Streets in Lower Manhattan, parts of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, a section of Long Island City, a piece in Brownsville, a stretch of 125th Street in Harlem, much of Roosevelt Island, a length of Hyatt Street on Staten Island, part of East Fordham Road in the Bronx, and a stretch of 23rd Street in Flatiron.

See also: 30 More Subway Stations Are Getting WiFi

The city will contribute $900,000 to the project; the rest, some $2.5 million, will come from the private sector, according to the mayor’s office.

Some of the hotspots will be sponsored by a neighborhood association, like Alliance for Downtown New York, or an influential neighborhood presence, like Brooklyn Academy of Music. The rest, including corridors in “the most disadvantaged areas, such as the Bronx and Harlem,” will be provided by the Spanish firm GOWEX, which already operates almost 2000 hotspots around New York City.

GOWEX’s CEO Jenaro Garcia said in an official statement circulated on Monday, “Wi-Fi is like water: it is essential to modern life and everybody should be able to benefit from it.”

Everybody, that is, including GOWEX, which makes money from advertising in the devices it connects to the Internet, and from partnerships with mobile carriers (their free WiFi reduces cellphone companies’ data loads).

Maps of the proposed wireless corridors on the next page[

Downtown Brooklyn, between Schermerhorn Street, Cadman Plaza West, and Flatbush Avenue at Tillary Street. Sponsored by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

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Financial District, Water Street between Whitehall Street and Fulton Street. Sponsored by Alliance for Downtown New York/LaunchLM.

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Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, Fulton Street between Rockwell Place and Classon Avenue. Sponsored by the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

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Flatiron District, 23rd Street between Sixth and Third Avenues. Sponsored by Flatiron 23rd St. Partnership.

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Long Island City, between Queens Plaza, Jackson Boulevard and Vernon Boulevard. Sponsored by GOWEX.

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Brownsville, between Sutter Avenue, Mother Gaston Boulevard, and Pitkin and Howard avenues. Sponsored by GOWEX.

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Harlem, 125th Street between Broadway and Second Avenue. Sponsored by GOWEX.

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Roosevelt Island, between the Queensboro Bridge and Roosevelt Island Bridge. Sponsored by GOWEX.

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Staten Island, Hyatt Street between St. Mark’s Place and Stuyvesant Place. Sponsored by GOWEX.

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The Bronx, East Fordham Road from Grand Concourse to Arthur Avenue. Sponsored by GOWEX.

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Send story tips to the author, Tessa Stuart