Bronx public housing residents, community organizations, labor unions and elected officials gathered on the steps of City Hall in February to demand adequate funding and oversight of the long neglected and dilapidated buildings in the New York City Housing Authority. With the 2017 elections coming up this fall, most of the heat was directed towards Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The activists came with a list of demands that they are calling the People’s NYCHA Plan. In it, residents are demanding:
• $1 billion in maintenance funds for the next 10 years to address what they said is $17.5 billion in repairs;
• Removal of all toxic mold, asbestos and lead;
• An oversight committee comprised of NYCHA residents;
• A commitment to end the policy of leasing NYCHA land to private developers for market housing.
“My children will not have heat at home and they ask me, ‘Ma, is there hot water?’ or touch the radiator to see if there is heat in the house,” said Claudia Perez, a Community Voices Heard leader and a resident of George Washington Carver Houses.
Bronx Councilmember Ritchie Torres told the crowd that the mayor’s current 10-year plan for NYCHA was inadequate.
“Don’t tell me that a $1 billion is going to fix this because it’s not enough,” Torres told the crowd at the rally. “If we can invest $2 billion in a streetcar, then surely we can invest the same, if not more, in the homes of 500,000 New Yorkers.”
NYCHA was founded in 1934 to provide housing for low-income and moderate-income families. It is funded through federal, state and city funds. As of 2016, there were 403,275 residents living in NYCHA developments in all five boroughs. South of the Cross Bronx Expressway, there are more than 30 NYCHA developments.
NYCHA developments have a long list of problems. Mold, lead and asbestos are commonly reported. Residents in Mott Haven buildings have also complained of rats, broken elevators, leaking ceilings and discarded syringes left in hallways.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer had his own idea about how to fund NYCHA: to shunt extra rental income from the market housing in Battery Park City in lower Manhattan to public housing. Stringer said the surplus, $400 million, could pay for all NYCHA repairs. But, he noted, the Battery Park City Authority, an appointed state agency with oversight by the governor, would have to vote for it along with the comptroller, the governor and the mayor.
“You got my vote,” said Stringer. “The second person is the governor. I told him about this and he says, ‘I’ll vote yes.’ The third person who needs to say yes and then the deal is done, is the mayor. Come on, Bill!”
Some in the crowd shouted, “Go, Scott Stringer,” in support.
But some were not swayed by the words of the elected officials. Lenora Fulani, a political activist, said of the politicians, “They’re at this conference, but we are in the goddamn streets!” Fulani’s statement was met by cheers from the audience and she continued, “We’re not giving speeches. We are working and very, very hard.”
Ronald Topping, president of the tenant association at John Adams Houses in Mott Haven, said many of the politicians come for the photo-op yet aren’t prepared to fight for NYCHA funding.
“What we need to know is the real point. Are they going to stand with the people of NYCHA?” Topping asked. “That’s what we need to know.”
After the rally ended and most of the crowd had dispersed, de Blasio happened to come out of City Hall and strode past the remaining people.
“Look! He’s running!” shouted several protesters. But the mayor continued straight towards his waiting SUV.