NYCHA Tenants Battle Mold Alongside Covid
By Howie Hawkins
The US faces an unprecedented housing crisis due to lost income in the covid pandemic. Up to 40 million people face eviction because they are behind on rent. President Biden has extended the Center for Disease Control (CDC) eviction moratorium to March 31 by executive order and proposes to further extend the moratorium to September 30 along with $35 billion in assistance to struggling renters and homeless people in his covid relief package. But estimates of back rent owed by January are as high as $70 billion.
The CDC moratorium has loopholes, many court jurisdictions are disregarding it, and many are being evicted during the pandemic. The US Census Bureau’s weekly survey tracking the impacts of the covid pandemic currently finds that 34.2% of adults live in households that are not current on their rent or mortgage and are either very likely or somewhat likely to face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months.
Safety Problems in New York City Public Housing
For residents of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the crisis of safe and secure housing preceded the covid pandemic. NYCHA is the nation’s largest public housing authority by far. 326 projects with 175,000 units are officially home to 400,000 people. Most estimate the actual number of residents to be about 600,000 people because many family and extended-family members are not on the leases and officially counted.
Rent goes up with more people in the apartment. So many struggling families don’t report additional tenants in order to keep their rents down so they can pay for other essential needs. If these 200,000 people who are not counted on NYCHA leases were not living in the housing, they would be out on the streets and in the homeless shelters, multiplying the 80,000 New Yorkers who are already homeless.
NYCHA needed $32 billion in 2018 in additional funding to mitigate lead, mold, leaky roofs, disabled elevators, and broken boilers. 80% of tenants were without heat for some period during the winter of 2017-18. 83% of NYCHA units pose serious health risks to tenants.
Privatization Makes Safety Problems Worse
NYCHA is tens of billions of dollars short in funding to maintain safe housing because of decades of austerity budgets for public housing at the city, state, and federal levels. Instead of fighting to increase public housing budgets, federal and city officials have turned to privatizing the management of public housing units as a way to cover the shortfall in public funding with private investment. NYCHA calls this new dispensation a public/private partnership, but what it really means is the public pays and the private profits. Private investors want to maximize profit, which means minimizing investments to maintain safe housing conditions.
In New York City, the transfer of management of public housing to private sector landlords has been taking place under the Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD, program of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together, or PACT, program of the de Blasio administration.
I discussed the deleterious impacts of these programs in New York City in more detail a year ago. An immediate issue now is mold removal.
NYCHA Resists Mold Remediation
Now NYCHA, doing the bidding of its private partners, is arguing in US District Court that the privatization of public housing apartments by Mayor de Blasio’s PACT program has released NYCHA of obligations to remediate mold in accordance with a Revised Consent Decree that was entered to settle a class action mold case.
The Revised Consent Decree governs the procedures and deadlines to remediate mold from public housing apartments. It came about after NYCHA refused to comply with the original Consent Decree. These consent decrees grew out of a complaint brought by plaintiffs in 2013 in the Baez case that sought US District Court intervention over NYCHA’s refusal to remediate mold that harmed tenants’ health.
NYCHA is asserting that it can abandon its obligations to rid public housing of mold because it is replacing Section 9 funding (public budget) with Section 8 funding (tenant vouchers) under RAD/PACT .
Public housing activists with Fight for NYCHA are demanding that where RAD conversion has occurred, the monies newly-raised from private developers should be expended in a manner worked out with local tenants’ councils to remediate the mold and other housing problems instead of being simply pocketed by these private developers.
New York City residents should contact their city councilors and push them to insist that RAD conversions provide mold remediation and overall safe housing conditions.