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Testimony By New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane Before The New York City Housing Authority Public Hearing On The Draft 2009 Annual Plan

 

My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York State's 29th Senate District, in which Amsterdam Houses, Amsterdam Addition, 344 East 28th Street, Fulton Houses, Chelsea-Elliot, Chelsea Addition, and Harbor View Terrace are located. As the State Senator representing the residents of these New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments as well as residents of Section 8 Leased Housing and other NYCHA units, I am particularly concerned with some of the cost-cutting proposals that NYCHA has included in its Draft 2009 Annual Plan.

I understand that NYCHA faces a $195.3 million budget shortfall this year due to increasing costs and the failure of all levels of government to provide adequate funding. Moreover, I appreciate the difficulty of NYCHA's task to remain true to its mandate of increasing public housing and maintaining services in times of financial hardship. Nonetheless, I share the concerns of the Community Service Society, Legal Aid Society, the Citywide Council of Presidents and many other public housing resident advocacy organizations that some of the measures proposed in the Draft 2009 Annual Plan to offset this shortfall are unacceptable.

I do not believe, for example, that NYCHA's Section 8 Voluntary Transition Proposal to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is an appropriate strategy for balancing NYCHA’s budget. By leveraging 8,400 Section 8 vouchers for existing residents of State- and City-owned public housing to offset the dearth in operating subsidies, this proposal would shift the burden of the budget shortfall onto the shoulders of some of New York's most vulnerable families. There are currently over 146,000 families on the Section 8 waiting list, and without these vouchers, it is unlikely that many of these families will ever receive Section 8 assistance. Likewise, reserving available units in these developments for families on the Section 8 waiting list will hinder NYCHA's mission to provide public housing to the 129,000 families on its own waiting list. Families on either list should not be denied housing because of the City and State's inability to provide adequate support to buildings for which they are responsible.

I am also greatly concerned about the draft plan's suggestion of further staff cutbacks on top of the nearly 500 NYCHA positions that were slated to be eliminated in the current year's plan. Not only will our City lose of hundreds of quality jobs, but also NYCHA developments – many of which are in need of major repairs – will suffer a decline in maintenance. I already receive complaints from constituents living in NYCHA developments who report slow and ineffectual responses to calls for repairs and emergency services. I fear that the quality of life in these communities will only further decline, potentially forcing many tenants to live in squalid conditions. Furthermore, reducing maintenance today will likely necessitate more costly repairs in years ahead. As challenging at it may be for NYCHA to balance its financial shortfall, the authority cannot forget its responsibility to either its tenants or its employees.

I further oppose the draft plan's increase in flat rents for NYCHA residents. During these times of economic recession and high inflation, it is imprudent and unjust to transfer the financial burden of the authority to some of the most disadvantaged New Yorkers. I understand that the hikes will be reserved for NYCHA's highest-paid households, but it is precisely this segment of the City's population that is being most squeezed, as they are ineligible for many of the public benefits that sustain NYCHA’s lower-income residents. More generally, though, it is counterintuitive to raise rents while eliminating staff and services.

Other cuts in services might be slated for the near future. Though not explicitly stated in the draft plan, NYCHA chairman Tino Hernandez has suggested that the anticipated budget shortfall might force the authority to eliminate all "non-core" services, such as senior centers and youth programs. Meanwhile, the City continues to take a total of $128 million from the authority for police protection, PILOT payments and Department for the Aging (DFTA) services. Rather than channeling subsidies into NYCHA, the City is extracting money in the amount of approximately two-thirds of the authority's total deficit. Surely, the City could find a less critically underfunded source of revenue.

In working towards a solution, I must emphasize the need for NYCHA to utilize the tremendous resources it has in its tenant associations, the Resident Advisory Board, and the Citywide Council of Presidents, and to work together with its surrounding communities. Resident participation is vital to molding the best possible solutions to these financial challenges, and in working out mutually agreeable compromises. This collaboration could prove particularly helpful in discussions about the proposed sale and development of empty plots of land within the Harbor View Terrace, Elliot-Chelsea, Fulton Houses and neighborhoods, about which the residents have particular concerns. Certainly, any effort to sell NYCHA's millions of square feet of unused development rights throughout the City – a strategy that could prove to be the most effective solution to the authority's fiscal challenges – should, as Manhattan Borough President Stringer has said, be subject to a comprehensive planning and public review process, to ensure that the interests of the authority, NYCHA residents, their neighbors and the community at large are adequately represented.

Ultimately, we must work together to close the gap by resuming annual City and State subsidies and eliminating NYCHA's exorbitant and unparalleled payments to the City, rather than by cannibalizing Section 8 funds, cutting staff and services, or raising flat rents.

Thank you for your consideration of my comments. I will continue to fight for increased State funding and work with other with concerned stakeholders to explore legislative remedies to close NYCHA's structural deficit. I am hopeful that, together, we will find the necessary funding for NYCHA to continue providing services. In the interim, I urge NYCHA to seek alternative and less drastic measures to preserve safe, affordable and decent public housing for New York’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged residents.