New York City has the oldest public housing program in the nation. Using city and state funds, New York City started building and operating public housing in 1936. In 1937, the federal government enacted the United States Housing Act of 1937, which provided federal funding to build public housing owned by local housing authorities throughout the country. In New York City, the local housing authority is the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).
As originally conceived, rents were supposed to be sufficient to cover all of the operating expenses of public housing units. By the 1960’s, large numbers of families were too poor to live in public housing because they could not afford the rents which were not subsidized and which were tied to operating expenses. Congress responded by passing the “Brooke Amendment,” which limited rents to 25% of a resident’s net income (since increased to 30%), and provided annual operating subsidies to make up the difference between the actual operating costs and the revenues obtained from rent in the developments built by the federal government.
In addition to the housing developments funded with federal money, New York City has 21 developments which were built with state or city money. The City and the State provided the same rent limits and operating subsidies in their State and City developments as in the federal developments. For a listing of all NYCHA projects and under which program, Federal, State or City, each development is funded, see Development Data Book: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nycha/downloads/pdf/pdb2019.pdf.
WHO ADMINISTERS THE PROGRAM
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is the local housing authority that owns and operates all of the public housing developments in New York City. While NYCHA is an independent authority, it must adhere to rules promulgated by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and to its own management and applications manuals.
In 2013, the NYS Legislature passed legislation instituting a seven-member board of directors: a full-time salaried Chair, three part-time members and three tenant representatives, all of whom are appointed by the Mayor.
NYCHA has historically received funding from four sources: rents paid by tenants, as well as federal, state and city subsidies, which make up the difference between the actual operating costs and the revenues obtained from rent.
Currently, however, the operating subsidy provided by the federal government is insufficient to cover the gap between the rents NYCHA charges and its operating expenses. In addition, the city and state government have completely stopped providing any sort of subsidy to NYCHA’s city and state developments. The result is that NYCHA is currently running a structural deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars a year leading to undermaintenance of some public housing apartments. NYCHA has tried to close this budget gap by raising the rents paid by the highest income tenants, converting some of the units in its city and state developments into Section 8 units, decreasing its staff, and by selling off or leasing some of its non-residential property.
Summary of the Public Housing Program
NYCHA rents apartments to households with incomes below 80% of the area median income. NYCHA tenants typically pay 30% of their adjusted income in rent, although the amount may vary depending on the household’s source of income, immigration status of household members and the type of development in which they live.
Households must meet certain eligibility criteria to qualify for the public housing program, including, citizenship/immigration criteria, income criteria, and criminal convictions and other misconduct of household members. Generally, households apply for public housing by submitting an online application to NYCHA. NYCHA organizes its waiting list by giving preference to households it deems most in need and households whose income is between 50% and 80% of the area median income. Because there is a limited supply of public housing units and low vacancy rates, many applicants may have to wait as long as 10 years or more in order to obtain an apartment.
NYCHA tenants recertify annually, but they must report changes in income and family composition in between the certification periods. As long as the household complies with all of the program rules, NYCHA tenants may remain in occupancy indefinitely.