The Citizens Budget Commission, a respected fiscal watchdog group, is out with a new report looking at how the pandemic has slammed the New York City Housing Authority. The public-housing agency, the city’s largest landlord, has been in crisis for years now, and COVID hasn’t helped.
First, the outbreak gave another shock to NYCHA’s tenuous fiscal situation. Pre-pandemic, the agency expected to end 2020 with a $91 million surplus — cash to hire more staff to close its work-order backlog, catch up on deferred maintenance and proceed with its court-ordered reorganization. But collapsing rent collections — almost two in five tenants owe at least one month’s rent — will cost an estimated $72 million.
Countering COVID risks also made “the agency’s operations more costly and more difficult to fix,” the CBC notes. Only major federal relief for pandemic-related expenses enabled NYCHA to end 2020 with a balanced budget.
Plus, the crisis slowed vital work such as mold remediation, pest control, waste management and lead-paint issues, likely adding to future costs. The CBC predicts that the growing backlog of work orders and maintenance leaves NYCHA looking at an ever more nightmarish workload this year.
Hence such signs of trouble as the heat and hot water outage at the 21-building, 4,000- resident Ingersoll Houses in Brooklyn during a recent January cold blast.
Just before the lockdown, Bart Schwartz, the federal monitor overseeing NYCHA, reported that over 100,000 public-housing units hadn’t been inspected for lead paint, and 55 percent of the inspected were contaminated. In The Post’s Nolan Hicks’ exclusive reporting, experts said that meant that lead contamination was likely throughout the entire system.
The woes go beyond COVID: NYCHA projects saw spikes in violent crime as shootings rose 103 percent in 2020, while murders jumped by nearly 50 percent.
There’s some good news: NYCHA’s basic management abilities greatly improved, and it achieved important reforms to union work rules.
But now as before, moving much of the system into the Section 8 Rental Assistance Demonstration program is urgent. Local officials must not stand in the way of this needed conversion.
Sadly, it seems clear that the Biden administration won’t deliver any funding to cover the estimated $40 billion repair bill: Too many other local interests have the political pull to get higher priority.
The authority’s chairman, Greg Russ, has his work cut out for him as he strives to shrink the agency’s footprint and make it financially sound. We wish him success.
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