The report shows it takes New York City more than a year to repair vacant public housing units
New York City’s public housing agency took more than a year to repair and rent out empty apartments despite a sharp rise in homelessness across the city, according to an annual report released by the mayor’s office on Friday.
The average timeline to repair a vacant New York City Housing Authority unit rose to 370 days last fiscal year, up from about 161 days the previous fiscal year and a nearly five-fold increase from the roughly 77 days it took to make repairs in 2019. The Year Finance, a recent mayor’s administration report shows.
An annual performance review of each agency shows a bleak outlook for NYCHA as it confronts aging infrastructure and decades of disinvestment. The agency said it had 8,074 vacant units at the end of the most recent fiscal year on June 30. About 900 units were matched with applicants scheduled to move in, but nearly 4,200 were undergoing repairs and were not yet available. The agency maintains nearly 3,000 off-market units, some of which are used as offices, according to the report.
NYCHA attributed the time delay to more intense needs “due to aging conditions in NYCHA buildings.”
Units typically require new cabinets, doors and plumbing repairs, along with lead and asbestos testing, company spokesman Michael Horgan said.
“NYCHA is a critically important affordable housing resource, and our goal is to complete apartment renovations as quickly as possible, while ensuring New Yorkers are placed in safe homes that have been treated for specific hazards,” he said.
Given the delay, fewer families and individuals are moving into available public housing units than in recent years. Just over 1,000 families moved into NYCHA apartments last fiscal year compared to more than 3,300 in fiscal 2020.
NYCHA was able to help nearly 3,800 New Yorkers move from homeless shelters to other apartments using the agency’s Section 8 vouchers — up from just 749 in fiscal year 2020. At the same time, the number of people moving from shelters to Apartments on the public housing campus went from about 1,900 in fiscal year 2020 to 650 last year.
The rising vacancies and rising wait times have caught the attention of renters, advocates and City Council members who say NYCHA is critical to helping alleviate the housing shortage and homelessness crisis in New York City.
“These numbers have real implications for current New York Housing Authority tenants who are waiting for relocations or who live in buildings with vacant apartments, as well as more 250,000 New Yorkers on the New York Housing Authority waiting list.” “This is the kind of housing that will keep New Yorkers rooted in the city they built and the city they love.”
The vacancies also deprive NYCHA of much-needed revenue, a particular problem with rent collections down during the coronavirus pandemic, and tenants owing a total of $454 million at the end of 2022, she said.
Ixa Torres, president of the longtime Smith Houses Residents Association in Manhattan, said the agency does a poor job of communicating with tenants waiting to move, or families moving into public housing for the first time, about when apartments will be available. She said a family with three young children had been waiting for more than a year and a half to move into an approved apartment.
“They have to be constantly communicating,” Torres said. “Reply, crossing is very difficult.”
She said her complex had 54 vacant units that needed to undergo lead and mold remediation at the time of the hearing.
Corinne Haynes, president of the Queensbridge Houses Residents Association, said the needs of each empty unit are different, especially when someone has lived in the same place for decades.
“There is no cookie-cutter answer. Every apartment has its own problems and circumstances,” she said. “But it all requires financing.”
The New York Housing Authority estimates that it needs $78.3 billion to cover necessary repairs and upgrades, up from about $40 billion five years ago, amid rising construction costs and deteriorating conditions. The agency said that costs amount to about $485,000 per apartment.
Eva Trimble, NYCHA’s chief operating officer, told the council that public housing residents spend an average of 25 years in their apartments, resulting in increased repair and renovation needs that meet updated safety standards when they eventually become vacant.
“This is a key opportunity to complete important health and safety works on these apartments,” she said.
Despite funding issues and growing needs, NYCHA has been able to make progress in other areas considered “critical indicators” of the agency’s performance, the Mayor’s Department report shows.
The agency has been repairing broken elevators and heating outages at a faster pace, improvements previously highlighted by a federal monitor who oversees NYCHA.