Greg Russ is the Chair and CEO of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and former PHADA President.
Greg Russ, Chair and CEO of the New York City Housing Authority.
To ensure that public housing is here for New Yorkers for generations to come, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Chair and CEO Greg Russ unveiled A Blueprint for Change, a set of ideas that outlines potential ways that NYCHA can invest in its properties, residents, and organization. These proposals will also create jobs for residents while generating economic activity that will help New York City recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since his appointment in August 2019, Russ has led NYCHA’s work to improve services to residents in several critical areas – including heating, elevators, pests and waste, lead, and mold – in accordance with the Authority’s 2019 agreement with the federal government. At the same time, NYCHA has been working to transform its organizational structure and operations, such as through a property-based management model that is more responsive and accountable to residents’ needs.
A Public Housing Preservation Trust
A Blueprint for Change builds upon these efforts by introducing an innovative way to invest in and preserve all of the Authority’s buildings and apartments – a Public Housing Preservation Trust.
By using the public Trust model, NYCHA will ensure a public process and full end-to-end public control and ownership of the properties. NYCHA would remain permanent owner of the land and buildings.
Once created through State legislation, a public Trust would bring much-needed repairs and renovations to 110,000 NYCHA apartments, complementing the efforts to rehabilitate the Authority’s other 62,000 apartments through PACT/RAD. For the first time, NYCHA will have a comprehensive renovation plan for every building.
Tapping into TPVs to Improve Residents’ Quality of Life
The public Trust would be able to rehabilitate NYCHA’s buildings more efficiently and quickly. It would also allow NYCHA to access a new funding stream, Tenant Protection Vouchers (TPV), which are a valuable federal resource.
By transferring the apartments’ funding source from Section 9 subsidy to Section 8 subsidy (Tenant Protection Vouchers), the Trust will bring billions of dollars of improvements. TPVs provide additional subsidy compared to other federal funding sources: With the TPVs, each apartment can receive from HUD $650 more in subsidy each month. With the extra money, NYCHA can raise funds through bonds and loans to pay for the top-to-bottom renovations, and the debt obligations would be paid back using the additional TPV subsidy. This way, for every $1 in federal TPV subsidy, the Authority could complete over $6 in capital repairs.
NYCHA would then be able to make all the necessary repairs at its properties. That means new kitchens and bathrooms, boilers and heating systems, elevators, building pipes, ventilation systems, facades, and high-security front doors. It also means addressing lead, mold, leaks, and pests and improving waste management – creating healthier homes for residents.
And repairs can be made faster due to the more flexible procurement rules that will be part of the State legislation creating the Trust.
End-to-End Public Control
The Public Housing Preservation Trust is a public entity – a public benefit corporation that makes public improvements. It is not a for-profit or non-profit corporation, and it has no shareholders – it answers to NYCHA residents and the people of New York.
By using the public Trust model, NYCHA will ensure a public process and full end-to-end public control and ownership of the properties. NYCHA would remain permanent owner of the land and buildings and would enter into a long-term ground lease with the Trust. The Trust would oversee construction and improvements, and NYCHA staff would continue to maintain and manage the properties.
It’s a model similar to the NYC School Construction Authority, an agency that builds and renovates schools for the NYC Department of Education, which worked well when the schools were in dire condition in the 1990s.
Maintaining Residents’ Rights and Protections
State law, along with federal laws and regulations, will guarantee full tenant rights and protections, including the right to establish resident organizations, automatic lease renewal, and succession rights.
The Trust will be contractually obligated to provide and maintain the “carry over” rights from the public housing program (specifically, the Part 964 rules, including the provisions related to resident management corporations the Section 3 requirements regarding economic opportunities for residents; the existing public housing lease with a rider to accommodate the subsidy changes; and other protections related to due process, rights of return, etc.). Residents’ rents will remain capped at 30 percent of household income.
In addition, NYCHA is willing to offer each family in any apartment converted under Blueprint with a Family Protection Agreement that provides a written commitment to them related to resident rights and family protections.
Engaging Residents and Other Partners
Renovation plans could be in place as early as the end of 2021, with construction beginning in 2022. However, this is just the start of the conversation on these ideas, and NYCHA will continue to engage residents and other stakeholders to develop these ideas and make progress collaboratively.
Some of the steps in the Blueprint are required by federal law for NYCHA to access the Tenant Protection Vouchers. NYCHA intends to engage residents significantly over the coming months to ensure that residents understand why it is taking certain actions to comply with the existing law and access the vouchers.
Benefitting the Entire City
This would be the largest investment in New York City’s public housing since the 1950s – an investment that would help the city recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s because every dollar put into public housing is more than doubled in the regional economy, thanks to the jobs and tax revenues generated by the investment.
Through Section 3 and M/WBE programs, residents would be prioritized for job training and the thousands of jobs associated with the renovation work. By incorporating the latest energy-efficient technologies and appliances, the renovations would also foster a greener and cleaner NYCHA.
More Necessary Than Ever
Considering that NYCHA’s apartments and buildings currently have over $40 billion in major repair needs, a figure that grows at the rate of about $1 billion a year, A Blueprint for Change is more necessary than ever.
“At the heart of A Blueprint for Change is the mandate to improve NYCHA families’ quality of life, renovate and preserve their homes for the decades to come, and restore their trust in the Housing Authority,” said Chair and CEO Russ. “My colleagues and I are working hard on these goals every single day because we know that NYCHA is a vital resource in New York City, a pathway for progress, stability, and opportunity.”
Learn more about A Blueprint for Change here.