Testimony of NYS Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh Before the New York City Housing Authority

Regarding the Authority’s Draft Agency Plan for Fiscal Year 2008
August 1, 2007

Thank you Chairman Tino Hernandez, Vice-Chairman Earl Andrews, Jr., and Board Member Margarita Lopez for the opportunity to speak tonight.

My name is Brian Kavanagh, and I represent the 74th Assembly District in Manhattan, which includes parts of the Lower East Side, Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village, Murray Hill, Gramercy, Waterside Plaza, and Tudor City.

I represent many residents of public housing, including residents of Gompers, Baruch, Wald, and Riis Houses, Campos Plaza I and II, Bracetti Plaza, Lower East Side II and III, Lower East Side Rehab Group V, Straus Houses, and 344 East 28th Street. With so many of my constituents living in public housing, I have made advocacy on behalf of NYCHA residents one of my very highest priorities in Albany. I know that all of you work very hard on behalf of these same residents – and residents throughout the city – and I commend each of you for your dedicated service.

We are all very much aware that NYCHA is facing a $225 million deficit, due in large part to insufficient operating subsidies from the federal, state, and city governments. A renewed commitment to the funding of low-income housing would remove many of the restraints that have led NYCHA to consider increasing rents and fees, and decreasing your workforce, steps that would ultimately lead to a decline in the affordability of public housing, and the quality of the aging buildings that you manage.

For these and many other reasons, it is essential that residents and those of us in government continue to push for solutions to the chronic budget shortages that NYCHA faces every year. It is also urgent that NYCHA take every possible step before increasing rents and fees charged to families who are already struggling and before reducing services or delaying maintenance.

As the Draft Agency plan indicates, NYCHA currently receives only 83% of the operating subsidies that should be allocated by the federal government. This willful effort to shortchange public housing must be addressed by our representatives in Washington and I strongly support their efforts to provide a 100% allocation of federal subsidies for federal developments. In addition, I have joined Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressmember Nydia Velazquez, and the Authority itself in calling upon the federal government to federalize developments that are currently considered the responsibility of the state and city governments, by passing the Pathways to Preservation Act. This Act, introduced by Senator Schumer and Congressmember Velazquez would make approximately $54 million available each year. These two steps – the 100% allocation and federalizing the state and city developments – would go a long way toward addressing the budget crisis and ensuring the stability and affordability of public housing over the long term.

In the meantime, supporting the state developments is still a state obligation – and the state has failed to meet this obligation for many years now. I have fought hard – and will continue to fight hard – for the state to meet its obligation by allocating expense and capital funds to support NYCHA in general and the state developments in particular. While we may not have an opportunity to revisit the question of restoring a state operating subsidy until the Spring of 2008 during the next budget cycle, there is still some possibility that we might be able to act sooner on the capital side. More immediately still, both houses of the legislature have passed a bill that would increase the public assistance shelter allowance that partially covers the cost of public assistance recipients living in public housing.

The bill, of which I am a co-prime sponsor, would simply place the shelter allowance paid to NYCHA on par with the allowance available when public assistance recipients live in private rental housing – but this simple change would provide about $62 million a year in additional funds to NYCHA. To my knowledge, Governor Spitzer has not indicated whether he plans to sign this bill – a decision that should come in the next two weeks. I urge you to join me in continuing to push both for additional state capital funding before the year is out, and for the Governor to sign the shelter allowance bill as soon as possible. And over the longer term, I pledge to continue to fight as hard as I can for a full restoration of state operating subsidies for state developments.

As I hope I’ve made clear by now, I fully acknowledge that NYCHA’s budgetary difficulties are not entirely of your own making – and not entirely your responsibility to address. However, notwithstanding the difficult circumstances that the Draft Agency Plan attempts to address, I would like to express some concerns I have about the plan’s specifics.

I am concerned that the Voluntary Transition Proposal, which would use Section 8 housing vouchers to supplement the 21 developments that are not subsidized by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), will result in a net loss of affordable housing for low-income families who are already struggling to make ends meet. Diverting housing vouchers will keep families on the current Section 8 waiting list for a longer period of time. While I can appreciate the need to use available resources to sustain NYCHA, I do not believe that redistributing funds from one program to another will produce a net benefit to low-income residents who depend on affordable units, and I would urge you to abandon this approach and continue to seek alternative ways of addressing the deficit.

Although not featured in the Draft Agency Plan before us today, I am aware that NYCHA has in the past expressed support for a piece of legislation currently pending in Congress, the so-called Moving To Work concept contained in bill HR 1851. If this bill does indeed become law, NYCHA may find itself with the legal authority to take steps that would be detrimental to working families living in public housing during the course of the coming year, including implementing work requirements or rent increases that exceed 30 percent of residents’ annual income. Before you take any of these kinds of steps, I would urge you to involve residents and community leaders in considering whether and how to move forward, in order to ensure that NYCHA remains accessible and affordable to all public housing residents.

On the positive side, I would like to take this opportunity to commend you for embracing cost-saving measures, such as the procurement of Integrated Information Technology Systems and the implementation of the Computerized Heating Automation System. As I mentioned above, I would encourage you to continue to identify cost-saving measures and other innovations that demonstrate NYCHA’s commitment to long-term sustainability, without losing sight of the Authority’s historic commitment to providing livable, affordable housing for low-income residents of our communities.

Thank you for your consideration of my comments today.