Op-ed: NYCHA’s PACT program delivers results

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NYCHA announced on May 20 the completion of over $400 million in repairs at nine complexes, including Weeksville Gardens (pictured).
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We are both longtime residents at New York City Housing Authority communities, and we know it wasn’t always this desperate of a situation. We remember when NYCHA was once celebrated as a national example of affordable housing for working families. But as leaders at our respective developments, we’ve seen how far the conditions have deteriorated. 

It’s impossible to know the emotional, mental and physical toll living in NYCHA can take on our families unless you have known what it’s like to have holes in your floors or walls for years on end. Or to go through cold winter nights without consistent heat. We’re exhausted. And we deserve better.

As resident leaders, we represent two different developments in Brooklyn, but whether you’re at Armstrong Houses or Williams Plaza or at any other NYCHA development, the issues that public housing residents face are all too often the same.

In addition to a failure to provide adequate heating or make repairs, we’ve had safety issues related to constantly broken door locks. Our seniors and less mobile residents have been forced to stay in their apartments every time an elevator broke down. The lack of accountability to residents has allowed these systemic failures to go unattended for years.

A few years ago, rumors began swirling in our neighborhoods about private management taking over our homes and providing repairs. It understandably set off fears with our fellow NYCHA residents. We’ve been lied to so many times over the years, and the idea of repairs finally coming to our homes sounded too good to be true. After countless promises and conversations, what we needed were results in our homes. 

In our case, our developments at Armstrong Houses and Williams Plaza were two of nine in Brooklyn that would receive $350 million in overdue investments across 2,625 apartments. Omni, The Arker Companies, Dabar Development Partners, and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation came to our developments, and many of our fellow 6,300 residents had a lot of questions. 

Today, we are so happy that NYCHA’s Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program came to our communities. Modeled after the Obama administration’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) initiative, the program allows private companies to invest millions of dollars in repairs to apartments and manage the day-to-day operations for a development, all while residents preserve both the affordability and the tenant rights we had before.

Some people, including many who don’t live in our communities, continue to resist the idea entirely. They argue NYCHA shouldn’t partner with any private developers or managers. These people insist that the federal government deliver more than $40 billion that public housing residents across the city need to repair their homes. 

But we’ve been waiting for Washington D.C. — not just this year but for decades. Every year that passes means another $1 billion we need to keep up with needs. Maybe some people outside of public housing can keep waiting, but residents need help now.

We cannot emphasize enough how much PACT has changed our lives. By working with residents, Omni and the Arker Companies transformed our homes. From new kitchens and appliances, to state-of-the-art security cameras and elevators, and everything in between. Our residents are starting to take pride in having beautiful apartments and communities once again.

Our new management company through the PACT program is present and accountable to us. Managers and staff also respond when we’re facing an issue, not months or years after we file a complaint but within days. If we have a question, there’s a person on site to help or a super who lives in our building who also takes pride in our community. If there’s a problem, we aren’t kept waiting for a solution — we are a part of it.

It’s time to stop the fear-mongering pushed by those who refuse to engage in a real dialogue about what is needed to help NYCHA residents and let those of us who live with the results speak for ourselves.

NYCHA should continue to push forward with PACT conversions so more New Yorkers who are desperate, like we were, can have safe, affordable, and beautiful housing. No public housing residents should be in danger or ashamed of where they live because of someone else’s neglect. There is a solution on the table and it’s time to embrace it.

Joel Gross is the Williams Plaza Tenants Association President and Stephen Davis is the Armstrong Tenant Association President.