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New York's Public Housing 'Crumbling,' Needs $25B In Repairs Amid Shrinking Federal Funding

Campos Plaza, a public housing building in New York City, as of September 2017

In case the failure of water heaters in Astoria over the winter did not make it clear, public housing in New York is teetering on the edge of crisis.

The city's public housing system, made up of 176,000 apartments across all five boroughs, is in need of an estimated $25B of repairs, the Wall Street Journal reports. The figure is a massive jump from the $6B estimated in 2005, a discrepancy the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio pins on years and years of declining federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD, which oversees the New York City Housing Authority, remains understaffed and lacking direction under the leadership of Secretary Ben Carson. Carson has said that his focus at HUD will be programs to decrease low-income citizens' reliance on federally funded housing, but he has yet to implement any concrete policies to that end, leading the former neurosurgeon to say that "there are more complexities [at HUD] than in brain surgery."

Advocates for public housing residents in New York City called the system's state of disrepair a "crisis point," with failures like that of the heating system underscoring the nature of the funding shortfall as a public safety concern. While Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alicia Glen said the city "cannot solve the crisis in our public housing alone," the city will likely have to look for help outside of HUD for meaningful solutions while Carson is at the helm and funding remains scarce.

Among the potential solutions could be declaring bankruptcy, but a less drastic measure could be an expansion of the city's plan to turn over the management of some public housing projects to private developers, similar to what has been done in Atlanta and other cities. Though residents fear the potential for abuse under privatization, the WSJ held up the private management of Campos Place in Manhattan by BFC Partners and L+M Development Partners as an example of privatization's success.

The JV purchased a stake in Campos Place in January 2015, and soon spent $26M renovating the building's heating, hot water and elevator systems. One resident said to the WSJ, "I think NYCHA should go ahead and start privatizing all these buildings.”