Georgina Hallowell

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State Senator Julia Salazar and St. Nick’s Alliance were joined by community leaders and public housing tenants in a tense discussion over the state of New York City Housing Authority at the Brooklyn Public Library DeKalb Branch on July 24.

The morning of the event, Senator Salazar sent out an email stating, “NYCHA residents deserve the same right to quality housing as everyone else, but too many of our community members face problems like life-threatening mold, environmental lead, inadequate heating or cooling, or broken elevators.” 

With 326 developments, NYCHA is the largest public housing authority in the country. The problem is many of these project buildings need millions of dollars of repair work. After years of state and federal disinvestment, NYCHA now needs over 30 billion dollars for capital repairs.  The authority’s aging apartments has left more than 800 children tainted with lead, exposed tenants to life-threatening mold, and failing boilers amongst other issues.

“We are focused on solutions to increase that funding and also make sure that it is going where it needs to go so that NYCHA tenants are taken care of,” said Senator Salazar at the forum.

To start the public forum, Senator Salazar’s team showed pictures of quality public housing around the world proving that New York could have similar living conditions without relying on the private sector. Senator Salazar acknowledged that unlike other countries, transforming New York public housing would require more since most of the buildings have been there for more than a decade. 

Salazar presenting at the public forum in the Dekalb Library.

“There is this compelling myth to people that public housing isn’t supposed to be nice. We know that this isn’t true. It is our responsibility, the state’s responsibility that we improve the quality of our public housing,” said Salazar. 

In December, Mayor de Blasio presented NYCHA 2.0, a 10-year plan to improve health and safety conditions for all residents. However, the three-pillar initiative is set to deliver $24 billion, still short of NYCHA’s  $31.8 billion overall capital need. The Office of Senator Salazar revealed their legislative plan to tackle “NYCHA’s housing crisis.” The proposal consists of creating four additional New York state tax brackets for millionaires. The tax brackets are separated amongst those who make one to five million, five to 10 million, 10 to one hundred million, and above one hundred million. Each tax bracket will be taxed an increase of 0.5 percent generating a total of two billion in annual revenue that would assist in funding NYCHA. Currently, whether a millionaire makes one million or one hundred million, they pay the same amount of taxes. 

Tensions began to rise when NYCHA tenants questioned Salazar’s approach to NYCHA’s problems.  A resident said although she agrees with the bill, the focus is misplaced because the city has the money to help NYCHA, but is waiting on a federal monitor due to lack of trust in NYCHA management.

Team Salazar responded to the tenant saying both issues are valid and deserving of discussion.

“We would argue that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We could manage at a very great level by holding people accountable and we can fund it. And guess what? Some of the management flaws and mishaps, if you will, are based on funding. You can’t say ‘I’m going to get rid of lead and pests but not have enough people down on the ground.’ You need money,” said a Salazar representative. 

NYCHA’s Rat Reduction Program, via Twitter.

To which the residents responded that management needs to know how to distribute the people and allocate the funds appropriately. Residents prompted to address the management in charge, instead of blaming funding. 

Last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency on NYCHA to speed up repairs. The state has promised to release $450 million to fix public housing but refused to release the money without a federal monitor for oversight. While the issues go hand-in-hand, residents and Senator Salazar’s team struggled to find an equal ground. 

As of now, there are no co-sponsorships for Senator Salazar’s legislation to help fund NYCHA through the pockets of multi-millionaires. Upon hearing this, NYCHA residents were irritated because they were having a meeting about something that might not be probable.

Although Salazar’s team had a set agenda to address legislative solutions, NYCHA residents weren’t satisfied with their general approach to NYCHA’s issue.

“It’s civil rights that you don’t want to stand up for. If you don’t want to stand up for civil rights, don’t tell me about no millionaires when we are the millionaires of poverty. It’s not money, it’s the land that we want to keep,” said a NYCHA resident.

At one point, there was a count held over who lived in public housing revealing less than 10 attendees were actual NYCHA tenants. Previously, tenants were asked to not overpower the conversation but the count proved that the passionate eruptions from these tenants were coming from their close relationship with NYCHA.

After offering solutions, St. Nick’s Alliance senior community organizer, Elise Goldin ended the public by forming a list of what tenants wanted and didn’t want. Most NYCHA residents in attendance agreed that they didn’t want Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), a program transferring NYCHA apartments to private operators allotting them access to federal subsidies. 

Alicka Ampry-Samuel, via Twitter.

n hopes to learn how to help NYCHA effectively, Public Housing Committee Chair and Brooklyn Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel was in attendance. She has previously questioned the lack of urgency and response when it comes to the concerns of NYCHA residents. She took the time to remind everyone that working together is the only way to be effective.

In hopes to learn how to help NYCHA effectively, Public Housing Committee Chair and Brooklyn Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel was in attendance. She has previously questioned the lack of urgency and response when it comes to the concerns of NYCHA residents. Amongst the heated discussion, Ampry-Samuel took the time to remind everyone that working together is the only way to be effective.

“I’m excited about being in this space because it’s an opportunity for us to all come together,” said Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel. She revealed she has had similar reactions when advocating for her community but she also learned the importance of controlling herself to get things done. “When we get in these rooms, we need to figure out ways to strategize and come up with legislation. Everyone has a role to figure out how we can leave out of here as one collective voice.”

Even with the agenda coming to an end, Senator Julia Salazar mentioned she didn’t want to brush over their feelings but instead listen. Salazar’s sentiment lessened the tension in the room, however the two-hour public forum couldn’t possibly address every dire issue that NYCHA is facing.

St. Nick’s Alliance and the office of Senator Julia Salazar will continue to work with NYCHA tenants and community leaders to bring them quality living.

Cover photo courtesy of Erica Joy.

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