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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

What Donald Trump and Ben Carson mean for affordable housing

Ben Carson was named to be Donald Trump's

Ben Carson was named to be Donald Trump's secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. What does that mean for New Yorkers who live in public housing? Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Saturday Night Live aired a sketch last month mocking a feel-good Brooklyn-like “bubble” without Donald Trump. 

Many New Yorkers may try to live in that bubble for the next four years. But for more than a million and a half living in Section 8 or public housing developments, that won’t be possible. 

The Trump administration and the next Congress will have a lot to say about the leakiness of roofs, reliability of elevators and general living conditions in those homes. 

That’s because approximately two thirds of NYCHA’s operating budget comes from the federal government, according to the agency. Some 1,500 of NYCHA’s buildings are more than 50 years old — they require serious upkeep. And already NYCHA has a capital repairs deficit of $17 billion. 

In short, NYCHA residents need all the help they can get. 

Who will pay for public housing?

Ben Carson, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will inherit a department that has consistently divested from public housing for decades, through both Republican and Democratic presidencies. 

Since 2001, NYCHA has lost more than a billion dollars in cumulative capital funding. 

This has led NYCHA to scramble for other sources of funding, many of them public-private partnerships that can be highly controversial, such as so-called “infill” projects that lease NYCHA land to private developers. 

Carson, who railed about government overreach during the Republican presidential primary, is unlikely to be a voice for more funding. A Republican-controlled Congress led by House Speaker Paul Ryan is unlikely to disagree. 

In NYC, that might mean more privatization projects like one underway in Far Rockaway where a NYCHA-operated facility’s operation will be transferred to private operators for upgrades, with maintained affordability levels under Section 8 funding. That program, called Rental Assistance Demonstration, could be “the salvation of public housing,” according to New York City Councilmember Ritchie Torres, chair of the committee on public housing. 

With Congress uninterested in funding true public housing, hybrid initiatives like RAD could at least be a path toward a stable funding stream for some units. 

That does little to help thousands living in the largest developments operated by NYCHA. NYCHA’s other funders — the city and state — would have to pick up more of the slack. The city did this recently by devoting $300 million to roof replacements, for example. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio has begun positioning himself as a bulwark of sorts between Trump and NYC, particularly when it comes to rhetoric. Will he and other non-federal officials make the harder political decision to continue upping city support for NYCHA should funding disappear? 

Should NYCHA residents be worried?

To some observers, these larger funding questions and priorities of Congress will affect HUD more than Trump’s choice for the department’s head. 

Howard Glaser, who worked at HUD under then-Secretary Andrew Cuomo, says that much of the agency’s business is making sure the block grants are administered smoothly. 

“It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to run HUD,” Glaser says. But previous HUD secretaries have been a “voice for the underserved,” says Glaser, be it through conservative or liberal principles. Trump and Carson’s commitments on that front are not yet clear. 

HUD also directs enforcement of fair housing rules which aim to prevent housing discrimination. That has been a priority under the Obama administration. Trump and Carson could tone down that enforcement. 

In a 2015 op-ed on an Obama administration HUD rule pushing cities to report information on desegregation progress, Carson expressed wariness of “government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality.” 

Trump and his father were sued by the federal government in 1973 for discriminating against African-American renters in NYC. Yet their company was closely entwined with HUD, relying on the department for Section 8 funding to build housing. 

Now the president-elect is on the other side of the negotiation table, with even more New Yorkers dependent on what he wants built, preserved, or ignored. 


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