“For the first time in public housing history, residents will be able to vote on what happens at their individual developments and be involved in selecting the vendors who renovate their homes.”
The Public Housing Preservation Trust legislation signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul on June 16 will allow for the creation of a new, 100 percent public entity that can apply for federal Project-Based Section 8 Tenant Protection Vouchers, which offer twice as much money as the traditional public housing subsidy and will enable NYCHA to leverage these resources to fund billions of dollars in comprehensive repairs at our developments.
With the Trust, all of our public housing tenant rights are protected, including rents capped at 30 percent of income, succession rights, citywide and local resident associations, and resident management options, and NYCHA will remain the permanent owner of the land and buildings. For the first time in public housing history, residents will be able to vote on what happens at their individual developments and be involved in selecting the vendors who renovate their homes.
NYCHA residents finally have a seat at the table.
The Trust was conceived in 2019, and NYCHA immediately held in-person and virtual resident town hall meetings while also hosting hundreds of briefings with residents, elected officials, labor leaders, advocates, and community partners. NYCHA met with all 200 resident associations to get their input and to discuss the possibilities. Multiple emails and mailings were sent to all residents, and the press and social media covered the public discussion with enthusiasm. As a result, NYCHA residents came forward, spoke their minds, and NYCHA heard us.
Like all groundbreaking legislation, the Trust bill developed over time, through extensive outreach and resident input. I personally organized rallies and trips to Albany, with hundreds of fellow residents demanding the Trust. I have seen first-hand the overwhelming resident support.
As a member of the Citywide Council of Presidents (CCOP), a 14-year resident association president, and a NYCHA resident for 30 years, I have worked with my neighbors to bring resources to public housing and to hold NYCHA accountable. We have demanded improvements to our apartments and buildings, operational changes, accountable leadership and management, and real long-term solutions for bringing ongoing capital investment to our properties.
NYCHA residents have watched local officials fight for more funding year after year and despite their best efforts, they have continually come up short. Last year, the Trust conversation was put on hold to support the federal Build Back Better legislation. We were promised billions of dollars. However, once again, Black and brown families in public housing were deprioritized.
It is astounding that opponents of the Trust are challenging a future where NYCHA residents finally have power and a chance for a healthier, better quality of life. This same group is striving to publicly define “true” resident leaders and organizers as those who support the status quo, and is pegging those of us who refuse to continue to beg the government for resources as less authentic. What’s even more insulting is the fact that some of these same so-called leaders do not even live in public housing. These are the same self-appointed community leaders and political opportunists who are waiting for the calvary to come in while half a million New Yorkers live in squalor. Keeping NYCHA mired in bureaucracy, and residents living in poor conditions and dependent on ineffectual government programs, is just another facet of institutional racism.
The Trust gives residents a vote, and those individual votes threaten, and will ultimately dismantle, the existing power structure, where the group with the loudest megaphone decides and speaks for everyone else. Also, there has been a lot of fear-mongering—another key strategy in keeping people down. This tactic must end.
It is understandable that NYCHA residents have questions about how the Trust financing structure works. It is a complex issue, but one that’s very common in New York City and across the country. In fact, NYCHA developments were mostly built with borrowed funds, which worked years ago and will work now to renovate them.
Indeed, the Trust will be able to issue bonds using the additional subsidy that the Tenant Protection Vouchers provide. This is similar to how the government funds other types of capital projects—it is how our roads, bridges, schools, libraries, and many other public structures are financed. If cities didn’t issue municipal bonds to invest in communities, our infrastructure would crumble around us, which is exactly what is happening to NYCHA properties. At this moment in history, NYCHA is at far greater risk of losing its buildings to neglect and deterioration than theoretically defaulting on bond debt.
The Trust bill is common in that it enables the right to develop a Trust, and includes guidelines and protections, but it does not establish the model’s specific policies and processes. The legislation clearly states that within 60 days of the effective date of the signed bill, NYCHA will issue a set of proposed requirements related to the resident voting process, and that there will be a public comment period as well as a public hearing where NYCHA residents and external groups may provide their input before a final voting process is established. Most importantly, the legislation states that once a voting process is established, NYCHA may not take any action whatsoever regarding the future of a property prior to posting the final voting rules at its developments, nor prior to a completed vote at each individual development.
Now the real work begins.
The Trust’s central feature is resident participation throughout every aspect of the process. In the weeks and months ahead, NYCHA residents will need to engage, ask questions, and provide feedback on the voting rules. And then they will vote. It is simple: if a NYCHA resident wants their development to be part of the Trust, they will have the right and opportunity to formally vote for this option. Organizers who stand in the way will only obstruct residents’ legislated right to participate and have their voices heard, and we must not allow this to happen.
Barbara McFadden has lived in NYCHA for 30 years. She currently serves as the president of the Nostrand Houses Resident Association, where she has been elected into the role for 14 consecutive years. Ms. McFadden was appointed to the Citywide Council of Presidents in 2022.