In his wrenching book, Evicted, Matthew Desmond observes that the first step on the devastating journey from eviction to homelessness is often the loss of an apartment in subsided or “public” housing. A family that lived in a stable home is forced into dilapidated, private-sector housing, owned and operated by landlords seeking short-term profits from tenants who are likely to face further eviction, impoverishment, and social disintegration.
Here in New York City more than 500,000 people live in public housing operated by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), equal to half the entire population of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the city Desmond writes about. The “projects” are a critical part of New York City’s infrastructure. Maintenance could surely be better and capital improvements are badly needed. But, for generations of poor and working class families, the projects provided stability, security, community and, of course, a roof over their heads.
This year, under the City’s “progressive” Mayor, Democrat Bill DeBlasio, NYCHA has begun to implement its “NextGen” master plan. Under NextGen’s “infill” program, playgrounds, sitting areas, and other public spaces in NYCHA housing complexes will be sold to private developers, who will be permitted to build high rise apartment buildings containing a combination of market-rate and “affordable” units. However, the “affordable” units are beyond the means of the average NYCHA tenant. In addition, the plan allows the sale of existing NYCHA apartments to private landlords, who will receive a subsidy as long as the present tenants remain. After that, the unit can be rented to families chosen by the developer, and earning up to $142,395 for a family of four.
Dr. Lenora Fulani and her Committee for Independent Community Action is campaigning against NextGen and has widespread support among public housing tenants and other New Yorkers who care about the lives of poor and working people. CICA views NextGen as the first step in full privatization. NYCHA claims these drastic steps are needed to meet its $17 billion capital deficit and $98 million annual operating deficit. However, NYCHA’s own projection is that infill and the sale of apartments will generate a total of $300-600 million, a fraction of the capital deficit. For real estate developers, NextGen provides an opportunity to build on what is now very valuable land, such as that at Holmes Houses overlooking the East River on Manhattan’s upper east side.
For those displaced by privatization, the consequences will be as drastic as those described in Eviction. One need only look around New York to see massive luxury development in what were once working-class neighborhoods in Hell’s Kitchen, Long Island City and Williamsburg, and accelerating gentrification in Harlem and East New York. We look forward to hearing what Professor Desmond has to say about this unfolding social catastrophe.
Douglas Balder is an architect and on the Board of Directors of the All Stars Project.
Harry Kresky is counsel to IndependentVoting.org and one of the country’s leading experts on nonpartisan primary reform and the legal issues facing independent voters.
Politics for the People Conference Call
With Matthew Desmond
Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST
Call In Number: 641 715-3605
Access code 767775#