What began as a utopian New Deal dream is now a nightmare. Government should leave this business.
Last week the story broke that the New York City Housing Authority, by far the nation’s largest system of public housing, will be forced to operate under a federal monitor. The city also will be required to spend $1 billion on repairs and renovations.
Crisis has come to NYCHA-land, as New York magazine once called the city’s public housing system to underscore the sheer isolation of many of its large projects. This past winter, more than three-quarters of the housing authority’s 400,000 tenants, in 176,000 apartments, went without heat and hot water. Mandatory lead-paint inspections were not performed, and then falsely claimed to have been done. The chairwoman of NYCHA’s board resigned under fire. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared an official state of emergency and went to visit the projects for himself.
Readers may not be surprised, given the terrible reputation of public housing. But for years, a few utopian believers have insisted that New York is different. Take “Public Housing That Worked,” a 2009 book by Nicholas Dagen Bloom, a professor at the New York Institute of Technology. “The New York story provides a fresh perspective on familiar stories of housing failure,” Mr. Bloom writes, “by showing that, rare as it may be, a housing authority dedicated to everyday management can maintain housing even under trying conditions.” He describes NYCHA as having “comparatively tidy grounds” and “well-maintained high-rise buildings.”
That would be news to tenants such as Yajaira Cariani, a 36-year-old single mother of three who lives with her own mother in the Bushwick Houses in Brooklyn. She points to stained and leaking plaster and says there are days she must put out buckets in her living room to catch water pouring in from the roof. A woman on staff at a Baptist church in East New York monitors the Linden Houses, where, she says, “they just don’t pick up the garbage,” and thus rats abound. She tells of nonworking stoves and peeling paint—certified as lead-free, but who knows for sure?
Howard Husock is Vice President for research and publications at the Manhattan Institute.