Op-Ed: Public Housing Residents Deserve Better

According to a new resident survey, Fifty-seven percent gave a 'D' or 'F' for the maintenance; the average grade for management was a C-. MetroFocus/Sam Lewis

Alexa Kasdan and Lindsay Cattell work at the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York City. This week, the Center released the results of a survey conducted by public housing residents grading the New York City Housing Authority on issues ranging from their response to repairs and maintenance requests to the operation of its centralized calling center.

Public housing in New York City is in crisis. Public housing buildings are full of broken elevators, mold and leaky ceilings, impacting the quality of life for residents. When residents ask for repairs, appointments are scheduled for months or years later. Building managers are allowed to operate unchecked and are not held responsible for losing residents’ paperwork.

Several community-based organizations that organize in public housing recently documented these problems by issuing the New York City Housing Authority a report card with grades from public housing residents on repairs, maintenance and management. Participating organizations included CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, Community Voices Heard (CVH), Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), with research support provided by the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center. Almost 1,500 public housing residents participated in 71 developments across the city.

The survey’s results aren’t pretty. The New York City Housing Authority failed in 10 out of 26 categories evaluated. Poor grades were given for elevator maintenance, pest control, timeliness of repairs and the accountability and accessibility of management. These grades reflect a systemic failure of the housing authority to properly maintain buildings and developments.

In New York City and across the country, public housing fills a critical gap by providing affordable housing to extremely-low income and very low-income families. But those families need and deserve apartments with working sinks, and without holes in the walls or leaks in the ceiling. Families should be able to request a repair and have it completed in a reasonable amount of time.

Poor maintenance and repairs policies have significantly impacted the lives of residents like Evangeline Pugh, who lives in the Coney Island Houses and has been without a lock on her front door for over a year. When it first broke and she requested a repair, NYCHA told her she would have to wait a year for a maintenance worker to fix it. After waiting a year, a repair worker finally came to Pugh’s house but did not bring the right door. The repair was rescheduled to 2012. Till then, Pugh will live without a lock on her front door. Her story is not unique; thousands of public housing residents live this reality every day.

So what can the New York City Housing Authority do to improve? Right now, the Authority is in the midst of finalizing its Annual Plan, which sets out policy changes and priorities for the upcoming year. The agency should take a hard look at these grades and choose to invest in repairs and maintenance for its buildings and rework management policies to improve accountability and resident participation. As a starting point, NYCHA could look into the recommendations that are included in the recent report, A Report Card for the New York City Housing Authority.

The situation in New York City public housing has reached a crisis point. This is the time for the New York City Housing Authority to act.


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