As winds change in Washington, Velazquez seeks more federal funding for public housing

NYCHA buildings in Coney Island.
Photo by Derrick Watterson

Brooklyn Rep. Nydia Velazquez introduced legislation this week that would provide $70 billion in federal funding for public housing repairs across the country, as Democrats are set to take control of all three chambers of government in Washington. 

The bill, dubbed the Public Housing Emergency Response Act, would increase funding for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Public Housing Capital Fund, allowing the federal government to fund more repairs and capital projects in public housing complexes.

Of those funds, $32 billion would go toward repairs in the New York City Housing Authority, the biggest public housing system in the country.

“Public housing was created to serve as a safe and affordable lifeline for families in New York and nationwide,” said Velazquez, whose district encompasses Bushwick, Williamsburg, Red Hook, and Sunset Park. “However, the current state of many public housing units is a direct threat to the health and safety of the families who call them home.”

With Democrats set to assume serious power in Washington, and Brooklyn resident Senator Chuck Schumer assuming the role of Majority Leader, public housing advocates hope legislation like the Housing Emergency Response Act can breathe life into the country’s ailing public housing systems after decades of disinvestment. 

“Without this support, New York and localities across the country are at risk of losing public housing, a vital source of affordable housing that supports over one million households nationally, due to neglect,” said Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Conference. “Housing is needed now more than ever.”

New York’s Public Housing system, while the largest in the nation, is also plagued with repair issues and outages. Residents routinely go without gas, heat, or hot water for months-long stretches, and 9,000 apartments with children living in them are believed to contain dangerous lead paint.

Velazquez said the proposed funding is essential to address the health issues exacerbated by public housing conditions. NYCHA residents are more vulnerable to coronavirus than other city residents, research has found. 

“Residents are exposed to mold, lead, and a lack of heat on a regular basis, all of which puts them at a greater risk of contracting a severe case of the coronavirus,” Velazquez said. “This issue demands a bold approach, which is why the bill I am introducing today would provide substantial funding for capital repairs and upgrades.”