By Frank Lombardi
Feature issue in The Daily News
Despite the worst state fiscal crisis since the mid-1970s, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has vowed to safeguard state funding for the troubled New York City Housing Authority.
"Sound housing, affordable housing, for the residents of New York - mostly working men and women who live in Housing Authority [apartments] - are a priority to us, and it's something we have to do," Silver told a City Hall gathering of supporters of public housing who are concerned about potential cutbacks by the city and state.
With a $130-billion state budget, Silver stressed public housing "should not be one of the areas that suffers as a result" of the state's budget crisis.
The city Housing Authority (NYCHA) oversees more than 178,554 apartments in 336 developments, housing more than 400,000 residents, in addition to housing another 245,531 residents in subsidized privately owned housing. Its $2.7 billion annual budget is funded primarily by the federal government.
Organizers of the City Hall gathering last Thursday complained that the city and state have basically stopped funding NYCHA in recent years, contributing to a projected $137 million "structural" deficit for the authority next year. That means that NYCHA's funding continually fails to keep up with the ever-rising costs of operating the giant public housing system.
Among the organizers was state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Manhattan/Brooklyn), who said that even in such a tough budget year "we need to recommit to public housing." He was joined by supporters of a coalition, Save Our Underfunded NYCHA Developments (SOUND), in calling for increased, rather than decreased, funding for NYCHA.
Councilwoman Letitia James (D, WFP-Brooklyn) said public housing has suffered from "benign neglect" from all levels of government, adding to the suffering of those struggling with "abject poverty."
The presence of Silver at the event was reassuring to elected officials and other advocates of public housing. They noted that Silver, who comes up again for re-election next year, has 10 public housing developments within his Assembly district in lower Manhattan, many with politically active tenant groups.
Silver said there's "an obligation" of the state to public housing in the city, and added, "And there's clearly a broad coalition of elected officials who think this is vital."