The New York City Housing Authority announced a deal Wednesday to convert six Brooklyn public housing developments to private management under the feds’ controversial Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, bringing in $1.4 billion for repairs under a program many residents fear signals the privatization of public housing.
The massive cash infusion will bring much needed repairs to over 5,000 apartments in Williamsburg and East New York, NYCHA says. Repairs will take place at the Williamsburg Houses in the eponymous neighborhood, and the Linden Houses, Penn-Wortman Houses, Boulevard Houses, Belmont-Sutter Houses, and Fiorentino Plaza, all in East New York. The authority says that work will begin early next year with a scheduled completion date between 2024 and 2025.
RAD, a federal program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, promises federal funds to repair and renovate neglected apartments in urban public housing stock while moving the involved units from the federal Section 9 program, which provides money to public housing authorities to maintain their housing stock, to the Section 8 program, which provides rent vouchers to pay to private landlords. For NYCHA, that involves leasing apartments currently managed by the city to private management, consisting of a real estate development consortium and a property management company, while NYCHA retains ownership over the property.
“The PACT program continues to be one of the Authority’s best tools for comprehensively improving NYCHA campuses with significant infrastructure repair needs,” said NYCHA Chair Greg Russ in a statement, referencing the name for the city’s program of bringing apartments under the more-well-known RAD. “The collection of experienced partners that have been assembled to provide large-scale rehabilitation work, robust property management, and much-needed social services for these sites will enable NYCHA to maintain our commitment to creating stronger developments for thousands of additional public housing families.”
The Williamsburg Houses will get $490 million to repair 1,621 apartments in 20 residential buildings on the property. The property will be leased over to Wavecrest Management, which will take over property management, and MDG Design and Construction, which will conduct repairs.
Linden and Penn-Wortman will get a $430 million infusion for its 22 buildings and 1,922 apartments. The lease is being taken by Douglaston Development, L&M Development Partners, Dantes Partners, and SMJ Development, and repairs will be conducted by L&M and Levine Builders. Meanwhile, C&C Apartment Management will become property management.
Another $483 million in sweet, federal cash will go to the 29 buildings and 1,673 apartments at Boulevard, Belmont-Sutter, and Fiorentino. NYCHA’s partners in the endeavor at those properties include Hudson Companies, Property Resources Corporation, and Duvernay & Brooks; repairs will be done by Broadway Builders LLC and Melcara Corporation, and Property Resources and Lisa Management will take over as the property management companies.
Each property included in the RAD deal will also have onsite social services.
NYCHA says the money will go toward modernizing elevators and heating apparatuses, both of which suffer outages so frequently across the system that the housing authority has a whole dashboard dedicated to tracking them, along with lead paint remediation and investments in sustainable infrastructure.
RAD was started under the Obama administration as a means of getting much-needed money into cash-strapped authorities with old housing stock and massive capital needs. The program was expanded under the Trump administration, after the passage of the former president’s tax cut bill in 2017.
NYCHA’s needs are mammoth: estimated capital needs are generally pegged at $40 billion across the system’s 302 developments housing over 350,000 New Yorkers. Residents of the nation’s largest public housing authority have long had to deal with constant outages of heat, hot water, gas, and elevators, including in the cold New York winter. Tenants’ apartments are in varying states of decay, but the system for getting any repairs done involves dealing with Kafkaesque bureaucracy.
NYCHA first implemented RAD at the Ocean Bay Houses in Far Rockaway, Queens in 2017, and has since brought nearly 15,000 apartments in its portfolio under the program, including the Brooklyn apartments in the newest wave. The authority estimates that it’s brought in $3 billion in funding for capital repairs under RAD.
Residents at developments undergoing RAD have often been resistant to the notion of bringing in private management, fearful that it could lead to eviction. However, the evidence so far points away from an increase in evictions even if rents go up: an analysis by the New York Times found there were the same number of evictions at Ocean Bay in the four years before conversion as in the four years after.
Carol Barnes, president of the resident association at Linden Houses, says fears of eviction were assuaged when NYCHA and the developers said that HUD would continue subsidizing any rent payments that go beyond 30 percent of tenants’ incomes, but residents at Linden Houses still fear gentrification under RAD.
“We basically are losing a lot of our communities because of the high rents,” Barnes told Brooklyn Paper. “This is basically what the residents were worried about, it’s a form of gentrification for us.”
Overall, though, Barnes sees RAD as a positive development for Linden, which has noticeaby deteriorated over the past decade owing to severe budget cuts, she said. To her, it can’t get much worse than the job currently being done by NYCHA.
“As far as I’m concerned, this could only be a step in the right direction,” she said. “It can’t get any worse than it already is.”
‘Something has to be done’
Linden specifically is set to benefit in a big way. Linden and Boulevard Houses were two of NYCHA’s eight “unfunded” properties which had gotten no city, state, or federal subsidy since 2003. The housing authority says that bringing those two under the Section 8 fold will allow public subsidies to come in and put them on stable financial footing.
NYCHA, developers, and HUD engage heavily with the communities in developments they intend to put through RAD, with residents often expressing fear over privatization and eviction.
Nonetheless, the pandemic presented challenges to the community engagement process at all developments undergoing a RAD consideration, said outgoing City Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel, the Public Housing Committee chair and President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the New York HUD regional office.
“When they did a considerable amount of the meetings, NYCHA would say ‘Oh, we met with 100 residents,’ said Ampry-Samuel, whose Central Brooklyn district contains more NYCHA developments than any other in the city. “But this was during COVID, so a lot of the outreach that was done was done over Zoom.”
Ampry-Samuel last year requested a pause on RAD conversions during the pandemic, an ask that was not heeded, but while she is somewhat of a skeptic of RAD, she is by no means a definite detractor, especially considering that residents at many developments are all for it.
“[RAD] was to address the failures of public housing and deal with the need for capital repairs knowing they didn’t put a lot of money into traditional Section 9 housing,” Ampry-Samuel said. “The concept of RAD makes sense if you think about it in the fact that something has to be done.”
However, she questions why the conversions need to happen at all if HUD has the money lying around anyway. “I lean strongly just towards funding traditional public housing, Section 9, the way its traditionally funded,” Ampry-Samuel said. “If we can have all this money go towards section 8, why not put it towards Section 9.”
At the end of the day, Barnes sees RAD as something new, but promising; after years of being neglected, and left to fend in substandard housing, things might change for the better.
“What we want is a decent quality of life. That’s all any tenants want, a decent quality of life,” Barnes said. “I pay my rent every month. Respect me, give me a decent quality of life.”