Last week I had the opportunity to work with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and her staff to advocate for increased funding for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). At 6:00am on a chilly March morning, I boarded a full bus to New York’s state Capitol, alongside residents of New York City’s public housing developments with one goal in mind - to convince our state’s elected officials to allocate almost a billion dollars for NYCHA in its next budget.
Although I do not live in public housing, I have a personal connection to NYCHA’s developments. Growing up, I attended after school and summer camp programs at the Children’s Aid Society’s Frederick Douglass facility, located smack dab in the center of one of the Upper West Side’s largest housing development communities, Douglass Houses. I have friends and family who I have grown up with who live in this community, including my Aunt Lydia, who passed away a few years ago. I have fond memories of the beautiful people who called Douglass Houses home. The picnics and block parties during the Summer months. The basketball games and cookouts that literally brought together hundreds of people. The delicious arroz con gandules my aunt would make on at least once a week. All memories that I will cherish, and that have taught me the value of community.
My point is, Douglass Houses is a part of the community as a whole, and both public housing residents and those who do not live in these developments, should not be separated by any means. The people who live in Douglass Houses and in every other public housing development in the city deserve to live in a clean and safe environment.
As of today, residents in NYCHA’s properties around the city do not all have access to a clean and safe environment. According to NYCHA’s own statistics, there is a backlog of over $17 billion in repairs to residential units. This means too many residents are living with spotty elevator service, broken front doors to their buildings, consistently dirty and dark public stairways and access-ways, backed up pipes, broken window fixtures, and the list goes on. Regardless of income status, this needs to be proactively addressed.
To make matters worse, for years the Governor's office has provided zero dollars in multiple budgets, to address the ever-growing needs of NYCHA’s developments. Of course, NYCHA has its revenue centers, and has received a great deal of assistance from the current Mayor’s office, but more needs to be done. I applaud both the NYC City Council and the Mayor’s office for finding ways to help NYCHA. This includes allowing NYCHA to no longer have to pay real estate taxes to the city, and forgiving the annual debt NYCHA was (for decades) committing to the New York Police Department for patrol. Believe it or not, NYCHA was actually paying the NYPD to patrol its developments.
I am by no means pointing fingers or blaming anyone in particular for the current state of NYC’s public housing crisis. I am, however, calling on our elected officials to stand up for public housing and its residents. It's time to invest in public housing.
L. Blake Harvey
Founder, Lawrence Blake Group Int'l.