What is NYCHA?
NYCHA is the largest public housing authority in the nation. As stated on its website, NYCHA’s “mission is to increase opportunities for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers by providing safe, affordable housing and facilitating access to social and community services. More than 400,000 New Yorkers reside in NYCHA's 328 public housing developments across the City’s five boroughs. Another 235,000 receive subsidized rental assistance in private homes through the NYCHA-administered Section 8 Leased Housing Program.”
What types of properties does NYCHA control?
NYCHA mainly controls the land and buildings included in its many campuses across the City. NYCHA also owns some land not connected to campuses. For example, the NYCHA-owned property on Berry Street at South 11th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is stewarded by tenants from the NYCHA campus nearby and the lofts across the street from the lot.
How is NYCHA structured?
NYCHA is a New York State public corporation organized under Article XIII, Title 1 of the Public Housing Law. The Board comprises seven members appointed by the Mayor, including three resident members and one designated Chair. The Chair is the Chief Executive Officer of the Authority and is responsible for the supervision of the business and affairs of the Authority. More details about NYCHA’s structure can be found in its by-laws here.
Within NYCHA, “the Department for Development is responsible for managing real estate development on NYCHA's real property by entities other than NYCHA. Real Estate development opportunities may be disposed and identified by DFD itself, government agencies, private entities, or through civic engagement. These developments can help fulfill a broad spectrum of needs for NYCHA and the community … The mission of the Department for Development is to promote the use of NYCHA's real estate in a manner that creates the greatest benefit for NYCHA, its residents and society.” (For more, see the Department’s page.)
What rules apply when NYCHA sells or leases public land or buildings?
New York State Public Housing Law
Under Article III, Section 37 of the New York State Public Housing Law, public housing authorities such as NYCHA have the authority to “sell, exchange, transfer, assign or mortgage any real or personal property.” The Public Housing Law also sets forth special provisions applicable to NYCHA in Article XIII, Title 1. Section 402 addresses partnerships with private entities: “private enterprise should be encouraged to the greatest extent possible to enter the field of housing in which the authority now operates so that the authority may be able to concentrate its activities at the earliest possible moment on providing housing exclusively for the lower income families.”
In addition, NYCHA has the power to sell or lease all or part of certain NYCHA campuses in order to raise the necessary capital to rehabilitate and preserve NYCHA residential buildings. Specifically, Section 402-b provides that with the approval by the commissioner of the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), NYCHA can sell or lease buildings within Marlboro Houses (sold in 2010), Chelsea Houses (sold in 2010), Castle Hill Houses (sold in 2010), 344 East 28th Street (sold in 2010), Amsterdam Addition, Bushwick Houses, Stephen Wise Towers, Arthur H. Murphy Houses, Baychester Houses, Jonathan Williams Plaza, Drew-Hamilton Houses, Independence Towers, Rutgers Houses, Stapleton Houses and Manhattanville Houses. The terms and conditions of the sale or lease are left to the discretion of NYCHA.
However, before the commissioner may approve the transaction, the commissioner must make a finding that the transaction will enable the projects to be redeveloped and operated so to provide safe and sanitary housing for low income people (defined as people making up to 60% of AMI (for low income tax credit units) and up to 80% AMI for other units, which is approximately the average income of New York City residents). The commissioner must also make a finding that new federal assistance is significantly more likely to be available to the projects if such approval is granted.
Federal Housing Law
The federal government has created a lot of rules to ensure that residents have an opportunity to participate in decisions about their developments and overall policy development within NYCHA. Some of these rules - often referred to as "Section 18" - guarantee NYCHA residents a right to organize, a right to elect a resident council to protect their interests, and a right to help shape NYCHA’s annual plans, via the Resident Advisory Board. The language in the federal regulations is broad, stating that “Resident councils may actively participate through a working partnership with [NYCHA] to advise and assist in all aspects of public housing operations.”
There are also special rules NYCHA must follow before it can demolish, sell or lease land or buildings within existing NYCHA developments. NYCHA must get the approval of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to take these actions. To get HUD’s approval, NYCHA must certify that it has met HUD’s requirements and provide supporting documentation on certain topics.
When NYCHA wants to SELL or LEASE part of a NYCHA development, it must show:
- The plan to dispose of the property, instead of keeping the development as is, is in the “best interests” of the current residents. NYCHA must also certify to HUD that the undeveloped land “exceeds the needs of the development,” or that leasing it away is “incidental to, or does not interfere with, continued operation of the remaining portion of the development”
- NYCHA has developed its plans in consultation with residents. NYCHA must describe its consultations with residents, any resident organizations, and the Resident Advisory Board. Unfortunately, HUD has generally refused to be more specific about what “resident consultation” really means, and there is no minimum requirement about to the number of meetings with residents NYCHA must have, or what those meetings need to consist of.
When NYCHA wants to DEMOLISH part of a NYCHA development, it must show:
- The project or portion of the public housing project is obsolete in terms of its physical condition, location, or other factors, making it unsuitable for housing purposes; and
- No reasonable program of modifications is cost-effective to return the public housing project or portion of the project to useful life; and
- Where NYCHA is proposing demo of only part of a public housing project - NYCHA must show that the demo will help to ensure the viability of the remaining portion of the project.
Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP)
“Zoning” is the system of rules that says what and how much you can build on any piece of land in the City. When NYCHA proposes a project that would involve more/taller building or different uses than what the current zoning allows, NYCHA (or the developer NYCHA is working with) usually has to go through the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process to get permission to build. ULURP requires public notice, and members of the public can testify at all ULURP hearings, which may be hosted by the community board, Borough President, the City Planning Commission (CPC), and City Council. The ULURP process gives communities leverage to influence NYCHA’s plans, since all of the bodies who vote on the proposed zoning changes can pressure NYCHA to modify its plans.
Unfortunately, most NYCHA properties have a lot of air rights that are not yet used up so changes to zoning rules are rarely required for additional buildings on NYCHA properties. Also, if NYCHA can show that construction serves a public purpose, the Mayor can override the zoning rules without ULURP!
What are the public notice requirements for NYCHA projects, and how can community members influence what happens?
Federal Housing Law
HUD’s regulations require that NYCHA consult with residents where NYCHA is considering disposing of its property, and NYCHA provide HUD copies of any written comments they receive from residents, along with NYCHA’s evaluation of the comment, if any. If you feel that NYCHA has not meaningfully consulted with you in developing its plans, it’s important to create a record of that for HUD to see. If you are opposed to the plan or want it to be changed:
- Put your criticisms of NYCHA’s plans and its process of engaging with residents in writing. That way, NYCHA will not be able to mischaracterize how you feel about the plans and the way NYCHA is “consulting” – or not consulting – with residents.
- Be very specific. For example, point out issues that were raised at earlier meetings that were not followed up on. Refer to commitments NYCHA representatives may have made in conversations with residents, but later backed away from.
- Emphasize that new development will only be in the “best interest” of residents if NYCHA meets residents’ demands about what development should look like and how it should proceed.
- If you are completely opposed to the project, you might want to describe how the land NYCHA is planning to give away is not “incidental” to you, but necessary. For example, if NYCHA is planning to develop what is currently open space, you might explain why having that space is so important to you as a resident. Or if NYCHA is planning to build on a parking lot, you could explain why parking is very important to you and how difficult and expensive it would be to find parking elsewhere.
- Whenever you submit a written comment to NYCHA, include this sentence: “NYCHA is legally obligated to evaluate this comment and forward all comments to HUD under 24 CFR § 970.9(a).”
5-Year Capital Plans, 5-Year Expense Plans, Annual Plans, and Annual Plan Amendments
NYCHA is required to create annual plans and 5-year capital and expense plans in consultation with the Resident Advisory Board (RAB).
- NYCHA Consults with RAB, then Writes a Draft. Among other things, the draft must include information about any planned demolitions, sale or lease of land or buildings, and Section 8 conversions under the RAD program.
- Comments. NYCHA posts its draft plans online and makes printed copies available at its offices for review by residents and the general public. People can submit written comments to NYCHA or testify at “town halls” organized by NYCHA in each of the five boroughs, or at a citywide public hearing. At the town halls, NYCHA officials respond to questions; at the citywide hearing, NYCHA officials just listen to comments.
- NYCHA Compiles and Responds to Comments and Writes the Final Plan. NYCHA must compile all of the public comments, respond to each and attach comments and responses to Annual Plan before sending it to HUD. The RAB can submit additional information directly to HUD as a way to supplement their original recommendations or to reveal any inconsistencies with NYCHA’s plan.
- HUD Approves (or Disapproves). If HUD takes no action within 75 days, the Annual Plan is automatically approved.
In addition to an annual and 5-year plans, NYCHA also publishes Significant Amendments for public review when major things change in the categories that the Plan is required to include.
If a major change in one of the categories that plans are required to cover is not included in a Plan or Amendment, it might be possible to challenge the change.
Request for Proposals (RFP) Process
When NYCHA is looking to partner with private developers to build on NYCHA land, it puts out Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to find developers to work with. This is another potential opportunity for public involvement, because NYCHA may work with community members to create criteria for the planned development, which developers must then meet. For example, NYCHA worked with residents of Holmes Towers and Wyckoff Gardens to develop Community Principles around planned NextGen NYCHA projects on these campuses, and those Principles were part of the RFP. Residents can also argue to have a role in reviewing the responses to the RFP and selecting a developer. Although NYCHA is not required to involve residents in these ways, it may choose to do so in order to create support and buy-in for a proposed project, especially if it is worried that residents may otherwise organize to oppose a project.
Formal Resident Bodies
Resident Associations (aka tenant associations, resident councils, resident organizations or tenant councils)
- Exist in about ⅔ of NYCHA developments
- Dedicated to improving the quality of life in NYCHA developments and the surrounding neighborhoods
- Work with NYCHA management, giving residents a voice in operation of developments
- Help individual tenants get assistance from NYCHA on issues such as repairs
- Executive board of each RA is elected by association members and typically consists of a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and sergeant-at-arms.
- RAs can get money, office space, and other support from NYCHA to help do their work. They also get funds to organize Family Day.
- Made up of all the Presidents from the different RAs in that district
- 9 DCs in the city (2 each in Manhattan and the Bronx, 3 in Brooklyn, and 1 each in Queens and Staten Island)
- Bring information about residents’ concerns up to the Citywide Council of Presidents and get info to bring back to residents
- Each DC elects a Board of 5-7 Officers, including a Chair, who becomes part of the CCOP for a three-year term
Citywide Council of Presidents
- Represents the concerns of all NYCHA residents citywide
- Made up of the 9 elected District Council Chairs
- Works with senior NYCHA staff on big-picture issues affecting life in NYCHA developments, such as NYCHA’s budget, policy issues, and maintenance
- Meets with NYCHA officials and brings information back to the District Councils.
- Members of CCOP automatically become members of Resident Advisory Board
Resident Advisory Board
- Meets with NYCHA to represent residents during the creation of its annual and 5-year agency plans, which set forth NYCHA’s priorities and policies in core areas
- RAB can express concerns, make recommendations, and advise NYCHA management as the plans are drafted. RAB members also inform members in each development about the plan as it progresses.
- RAB’s recs for the final plan are incorporated when the plan is submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- +80 RAB members: 45 elected RA presidents and 31 alternates, 5 Section 8 resident reps, and the 9 CCOP members.
Examples of NYCHA projects
NextGeneration Neighborhoods: Infill
NextGen NYCHA is a controversial plan to help raise revenues for NYCHA and build affordable housing by permitting both affordable and market-rate development on NYCHA campuses. Mayor Bill de Blasio has argued that NextGen NYCHA will help the City build a significant amount of affordable housing at less cost, while raising revenues for NYCHA since the federal and state governments have cut so much funding. NextGen is part of de Blasio’s overall plan to build or preserve affordable housing. The plan is to build 10,000 of the total 80,000 new apartments on NYCHA land. The City is considering 30-40 NYCHA sites for infill, or 2-4 per year over the next 10 years. All of the new apartment buildings will be either 100% affordable, or half affordable, half market rate.
Current NYCHA residents have expressed significant concerns about the NextGen infill plans. First, even the “affordable” units are likely to be for families who make significantly more than many NYCHA residents. Residents are worried that the “NextGen NYCHA” plan will pave the way for their eventual displacement, especially since the City’s own research suggests that NYCHA residents are hurt, not helped, by gentrification. Second, although NYCHA has involved residents in the planning for NextGen to some extent, many residents feel that NYCHA has not really listened to them in making its plans. Third, many residents are concerned that although revenues will be used to help pay for repairs and upgrades of existing NYCHA buildings, it is not clear whether the specific NYCHA campuses where new construction will take place will receive priority for repairs.
Rental Assistance Demonstration Program
In 2011, Congress created a new way for housing authorities in cities around the country to convert their buildings from public housing to Project Based Section 8 via a program called Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD). RAD is being used in cities around the country and advocates are organizing in response.
Instead of being owned by the housing authority, after RAD conversion developments will be owned by companies. Private developers own shares of these companies; housing authorities can own shares, too. This allows the authorities to draw on possibly more secure federal funding and to bring in private money invested by individuals and companies taking advantage of tax credits, bond issues and the possibility of making money from the rent that current and future tenants pay.
NYCHA will continue to own the land and lease it to a company shared by it and a private development partner that will own the buildings. Management will be done by a private company. NYCHA can control what the company does via the land lease and via its agreement with the private development partner.
The key tenant protections that public housing residents have in New York survive a RAD conversion:
- all units in the converted development must remain permanently affordable (rent cannot exceed 30% of resident income)
- residents continue to have the same succession opportunities
- grievance procedures
- residents retain the right to establish and operate a resident organization
Developers will be required to propose a plan to train and hire NYCHA residents, and proactively engage residents on a regular basis as the project moves forward.
But that’s just the skeleton. The details are what will shape every resident’s experience of the conversion.
Housing authorities need specific approval from HUD to put any federally-funded public housing into RAD. HUD requires a public housing authority to have meetings with twice residents before applying and to include resident comments in the application itself. After HUD gives a preliminary green light, the housing authority needs to include the conversion in a written Annual Plan or Amendment and receive comments from residents. But HUD’s approval is just one step in the process.
Since the program was announced, residents and advocates in New York have been working with NYCHA to hammer out an implementation plan for NYC.