Public housing tenants need a far better year

The New York City Housing Authority's Bernard Baruch Houses in Manhattan's Lower East Side on Dec. 14, 2018.
The New York City Housing Authority’s Bernard Baruch Houses in Manhattan’s Lower East Side on Dec. 14, 2018. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Will 2019 really be a new year for the 400,000 residents of New York City Housing Authority properties?

As 2018 ended, Mayor Bill de Blasio made an effort in that direction when he unveiled an improvement plan that maintains public control but includes an expansion of the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, which allows private developers to maintain and operate the apartments and handle renovations. That should speed up repairs and maintenance. His plan also focuses on developing unused NYCHA land and selling air rights, both of which would allow the generated revenue to go toward repairs and other NYCHA needs.

Those are good ideas. But here’s the problem: This isn’t the first time de Blasio has touted such ideas; the notion was part of his NextGen NYCHA program introduced early in his first term. But barely a dent was made since. Problems, from lead paint to a lack of heat, remain pervasive, and mismanagement abounds.

How can anyone be sure that this time will be different?

That brings us to a much larger concern: How should NYCHA be managed in the future? Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has threatened a federal takeover. That’s not a good idea. It would add another layer of bureaucracy fraught with politics without providing the attention, expertise and oversight needed. Experts say HUD doesn’t have the staff or resources to run NYCHA. A judicial receivership could be more helpful if it produced big changes in NYCHA contracts and culture.

Even then, however, NYCHA needs more.

It’s up to city and federal officials to spend the first month of the year finding agreement on what should be done next before submitting it to Judge William H. Pauley III, who rejected the first settlement. The new arrangement must have teeth, and a specific plan to address NYCHA’s culture of mismanagement and corruption, plus a funding scheme for the $32 billion in needed repairs.

NYCHA residents deserve a better, warmer, safer 2019. The city should make it a top priority to give it to them.