New York City’s public housing bind

While many cities like Chicago demolished public housing high-rises with federal money, New York City did not do so to the same degree. That means there are public housing issues lurking in the near future:

But now New York City is in a bind. It didn’t have to tear down its high-rises under HOPE VI. But it also didn’t receive federal funding to improve its public housing, as HOPE VI recipients did (in the first decade of the program, the government dispersed $5 billion through HOPE VI). Now, NYCHA is left trying to figure out how to maintain decades-old buildings and reduce the number of people on the waiting list for public housing, all as federal funding for public housing continues to drop.

Popkin, with the Urban Institute, worries that this means that certain high rises in New York’s public-housing system are becoming as bad as the worst projects initially targeted in HOPE VI. Brownsville, in Brooklyn, is now the largest concentration of public housing in the country, for example. Brownsville also has the lowest median household income in New York City. In many other areas of the country, an area of one square mile of public housing would not be allowed to exist anymore. In New York, it still does, even as violence worsens and gangs take over. And the city doesn’t have the funds to change that, let alone improve other public housing buildings.

Public housing in New York City hasn’t received as much attention from scholars and the press as it has in other cities – particularly compared to Chicago. Perhaps this is because the situation was never quite as bad, whether due to lower levels of isolation (as noted in the article) or because the NYCHA was better managed than the chronically mismanaged Chicago Housing Authority. Or perhaps the urban sociologists in NYC focused on other topics. Or maybe the glittering portions of New York City are overwhelming – don’t forget the current luxury construction boom in the city.

In the long run, New York City is not immune to the same issues of inequality and a lack of affordable housing that many major cities face. If the city wants to avoid facing bigger problems down the road, it would be prudent to take action on housing now.

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