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NYCHA Rescue Trust Approved by State Lawmakers

Measure sought by Mayor Eric Adams and his public housing authority chair will enable refinancing to help fund desperately needed repairs for 25,000 apartments.

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The Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn, Nov. 4, 2020.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Albany legislators passed legislation Thursday that would allow NYCHA to create a public trust that can raise potentially billions of dollars to upgrade thousands of public housing units in the nation’s biggest housing authority.

For decades the 400,000 tenants of NYCHA have endured squalid conditions from mold infestations to non-working elevators to toxic lead paint, living in aging buildings that NYCHA estimates need $40 billion in repairs.

And for decades the authority relied on incremental fixes that have failed to keep up with increasingly unsafe and unhealthy conditions. The so-called Preservation Trust — proposed by NYCHA Chairperson Gregory Russ — creates a new funding mechanism to free up huge amounts of money for repairs. 

The plan required an Albany sign-off, which the Assembly approved in a 132-18 vote late Wednesday. The bill was then sent to the Senate, where legislators on Thursday okayed it by a vote of 38 to 25. It now requires the signature of Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The approval was a victory for Russ, Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn), and Mayor Eric Adams, who two weeks ago threw his support behind it, rallying with tenants at the Polo Grounds Houses in Washington Heights.

“For decades, NYCHA residents have been promised repair after repair that never materialized,” Adams said. “With the Public Housing Preservation Trust, we will finally deliver on those promises and offer NYCHA residents the dignity and safe, high-quality, affordable homes they deserve.”

“This is a momentous event in the history of public housing — in New York City and across the nation,” Russ said. “The passage of the Public Housing Preservation Trust gives NYCHA the ability to raise billions of dollars in capital funds to invest in its properties and residents a true voice in the future of their homes.”

The trust would float bonds to raise funds NYCHA could use to upgrade apartments. When first proposed two years ago it would have applied to 110,000 of NYCHA’s 172,000 apartments. It’s since been scaled back and turned into a pilot program for 25,000 apartments.

The buildings would continue to be owned and run by NYCHA, though tenants would switch out of traditional public housing and rely instead on Section 8 housing vouchers.

Last year its sponsors withdrew the bill after tenants and multiple housing advocates expressed concerns. But Russ mounted an aggressive campaign to get it back on track, and this year groups that expressed skepticism — including the Legal Aid Society, the Citizens Budget Commission and the Community Service Society — all got behind it.

Many tenants and some elected officials fought against the trust, and its original sponsor, Sen. Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan/Brookyn), withdrew his support. Sen. Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) stepped in as a last-minute sponsor.

Nine of the 10 members of the Citywide Council of Presidents, the tenant leadership group representing all public housing residents, came out against it, complaining that NYCHA rolled it out during the pandemic, limiting how much say tenants got in its formation.

 Several legislators from the New York City delegation who represent districts that include multiple housing developments voted against the bill, including Assemblymember Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan).

“I represent 13 NYCHA developments in New York City. I have met with my NYCHA leaders numerous times and they are uniformly opposed to this NYCHA trust bill,” he said. “Standing up for our residents means voting against this bill.”

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