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By the end of this year, more than 15,000 apartments in New York’s public housing system will be operated privately.
That’s nearly 9% of all the apartments owned by the New York City Housing Authority.
The shift is coming via a major federal housing program called Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD. It was created in the Obama years to allow local governments to get funding to upgrade public housing while still receiving public subsidies for low-income tenants.
In total, New York plans to convert nearly a third of its public housing stock, about 62,000 apartments, to private management.
The conversions are coming as NYCHA contends with challenges that include chronic vermin, rampant mold and lead paint, billions of dollars in urgently needed repairs — all while the embattled Housing Authority operates under the oversight of a federal monitor.
So what happens when a housing authority hands its buildings over to private management? Here’s what you need to know:
What Is RAD?
RAD is a national program enacted in 2012 that allows public housing agencies to switch the way they get money from the feds — moving from Section 9 (the way NYCHA-owned properties have historically been funded) to Section 8 (a program that funds private landlords).
Section 8 allows NYCHA to bring in private financing and management of the properties, while holding on to much-needed federal funding.
To make things just a bit more confusing, New York is combining RAD with other federal housing aid. NYCHA renamed the whole bundle PACT — Permanent Affordability Commitment Together.
So, if you’re hearing about PACT, it’s the New York City-specific version of RAD.
Why Is New York City Going RAD?
NYCHA needs a ton of money.
The Housing Authority’s new chairperson, Gregory Russ, recently said the city’s public housing needs $40 billion in physical improvements right now. That’s $40 billion in busted elevators, leaky roofs, obsolete boilers and pipes, and more.
To Russ and Mayor Bill de Blasio, RAD is a huge part of finding a way to underwrite the city’s public housing stock — before it crumbles completely.
Russ is a big champion of turning public housing over to private developers. He’s done it before in Cambridge, Mass., and Minneapolis, Minn.
Victor Bach of the Community Service Society (CSS), a longtime housing policy analyst, said the city is left with little choice — because RAD is “the only medicine that Washington is offering.”
“It’s a little like the situation of someone who has been diagnosed with cancer and who’s wondering if they should accept chemotherapy,” he said. “Nobody wants chemotherapy. But it may be the only way to address the problem.”
So Will Public Housing Still Be … Public?
Yes and no. In the sense that private companies will be managing the properties, yes, RAD-PACT is a form of privatization.
But the buildings converting through RAD-PACT will still be owned by NYCHA and covered by federal laws and regulations covering public housing — such as limiting rent to one-third of a household’s income. The private firms will operate and manage them via long-term leases.
It’s “a form of partial privatization,” according to a handbook produced by the Legal Aid Society, CSS and Enterprise Community Partners in conjunction with the RAD Roundtable, a group of NYCHA resident leaders and housing advocates.
Bach said the Housing Authority can’t avoid the P-word. “NYCHA hates to call it privatization, but it is true — no matter how large a role NYCHA plays post-conversion — that in order for the benefits of RAD to be provided, it has to be in private hands,” he said.
I’m in a Building That’s Going RAD. What Am I in for?
A few key details to know ahead of a private management switch, according to the RAD Handbook:
• You will pay rent to the new management group — and you’ll sign a new lease with them, too. Eviction notices will also come from new management, not NYCHA.
• Rents will be set at 30% of household income. If that’s higher than what you pay now, your rent will increase over five years.
• Everyone on your current lease has a right to stay post-conversion. However, any adult who wants to join your lease would have to undergo a criminal background check.
• NYCHA says it hopes all renovations will be done without tenants having to move. But sometimes tenants might be relocated temporarily — and will have the right to return.
When Is This Happening?
Some public housing complexes already have been turned over to private managers. The first city complex to go through the RAD process, in 2016, was Ocean Bay in The Rockaways with 1,395 apartments. Thousands of other units have since been converted in The Bronx and Brooklyn.
A bundle of complexes in Brooklyn that includes 2,625 apartments is expected to be turned over to private managers by March.
NYCHA said by the end of June, another bundle in Manhattan will come under new management. That group includes 1,718 apartments.
And more are on the way. By the end of 2020, NYCHA has said, another 5,908 apartments spread across dozens of buildings in Brooklyn and Upper Manhattan will be under new, private management. Those complexes include Harlem River I and II, the Williamsburg Houses and the sprawling Linden and Boulevard complexes in East New York.
The locations for the rest of the RAD conversions have not been announced yet, but the agency has said they will all be completed by 2028.
How Do Tenants in RAD Developments Feel About it?
At Ocean Bay, tenant leadership loves the changes. Tenant association leader Lolita Miller has spoken often about the improvements at the complex, telling Bloomberg News in 2018, “it’s become a paradise.”
She also appeared at a NYCHA town hall last year at the Fulton Houses to allay fears about private management.
But many worries have emerged from RAD-converted complexes, too. Transparency around repair work at Ocean Bay has disappeared under private management. And once a development is converted to RAD, tenants are no longer protected by a federal monitor appointed last year or by a court-monitored agreement to clean up mold.
Afua Atta-Mensah, executive director of the organizing group Community Voices Heard, said she hears the same thing from many public housing tenants when they talk about RAD.
“Fear,” she said. “A lack of clarity and — what does this mean for me?”
Some of the biggest questions come in around long-term affordability: Will rents stay low, even after conversion? Tenants are also concerned whether big fixes, like repairing roofs and boilers, will get done under RAD-PACT and whether the NYCHA workforce will be protected under private management.
Atta-Mensah underscored a bigger challenge for NYCHA: a lack of trust.
“I don’t know anyone who’s had to deal with NYCHA — be it an elected official, worker, resident — who doesn’t have horror stories on the Housing Authority,” she said.
Do you have questions about RAD-PACT changes at NYCHA? Or do you live in a converted complex and want to share your story? We want to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call, text, Signal or WhatsApp 718-866-8674, or fill out the form below.
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