Housing Authority budget cuts + Competitors for Cumbo

A note to our readers: The Thorn has switched from Mailchimp to Substack so we can keep delivering you local New York politics news from a socialist perspective with fewer administrative costs. Starting in January 2022 our new issues can be at thethornnyc.substack.com along with how to subscribe. This website will serve as an archive of our past issues.

Local News

  • Huge investment into Central Brooklyn services announced by Governor Cuomo. It appears that the state will invest heavily in a number of key services and build some affordable housing, but like most good things the governor does it’s easy to see ulterior motives; e.g. showing up the mayor, looking good for a 2020 presidential run, and instigating more private development/displacement without any improvements to rent regulation.
  • Cuomo’s proposed legislation to “Raise The Age” so that 16 and 17 year olds won’t be charged as adults is facing criticism from Democrats who argue that it is not enough due to its staggered implementation amongst other things.
  • Construction is moving forward on the new Citywide Ferry system coming this summer, which will connect parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens for $2.75 a ride. (See a map here.) The project faces some similar criticisms regarding cost effectiveness and priorities as BQX (outlined in last week’s newsletter), but it is another way the City is seeking to expand transit options without the state and MTA. De Blasio is positioning himself as a “job creator” ahead of the 2017 election, and held a press conference this week to hype the 200 jobs that this program has created.
  • Southside United H.D.F.C better known as “Los Sures” have proposed to 33rd District Councilor Antonio Reynoso of Williamsburg/Bushwick that affordable housing should be allowed special zoning variances - particularly the ability to build vertically on existing buildings. Los Sures is a non-profit that promotes community-based management and ownership of housing, currently managing 25 buildings in Brooklyn. Reynoso’s constituents are encouraged to express their support to him.
  • De Blasio and southern Brooklyn Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz have collaboratively drafted a state bill (A. 6854) to implement a 2.5% “mansion tax” on real estate transactions exceeding $2M. It is unclear how this bill will fare in the legislature and in the governor’s office. $336M in tax revenue is projected from just 4,500 transactions to cover 25,000 senior rent subsidies, illustrating the vast amounts of money that can be generated from mild progressive taxation.
  • Domino’s Pizza workers strike in protest of unfair working conditions - unhappy with the precariousness of their schedules. Councilor Ydanis Rodriguez of District 10 in Inwood showed up to support the striking workers at a recent rally and with several other councilors has proposed legislation that would address many of the workers’ concerns.
  • US Attorney Preet Bharara was fired by the Justice Department on Saturday. Bharara was actively investigating corruption allegations against De Blasio and a potential indictment could have completely upended the 2017 mayoral race. Bharara is now speculated to have interest in running in either the 2017 mayoral race or 2018 gubernatorial race. His full political leanings are unclear.

Upcoming Elections

  • Delvis Valdes is challenging Carlos Menchaca for the 38th Council seat in Sunset Park/Red Hook. Their rivalry stems from a deal involving the Sunset Park library and the Fifth Avenue Committee.
  • On the day of the Women’s Strike, The Progressive Caucus Alliance endorsed three women of color campaigning for open Council seats. Watch a video  featuring Councilors Menchaca and Reynoso here. They’re following in the footsteps of Make The Road Action’s move from last month – except the Progressive Caucus is leaving out Alicka Ampry-Samuel, a senior advisor for NYCHA, who is running in the 41st district (parts of Brownsville/Ocean Hill/Bed Stuy/East Flatbush).
  • Ede Fox (who was until recently the head of the City Council Speaker’s Office of Economic and Community Development) has unveiled an exploratory committee for a run against Laurie Cumbo. This would be her 2nd time running for the 35th Council seat in Crown Heights, after she came in third in 2013. The ideological differences between Fox and Cumbo are not clear.
  • DSA’s own Jabari Brisport, who is running for the 35th District Council seat in Crown Heights, will be at an event on Wednesday with his opponents, the incumbent Cumbo and Democratic challenger Ede Fox. Thursday is his launch party. Brisport spoke to us about his choice to run with the Green Party as opposed to primarying the dems, highlighting the importance of building a strong third party on a local level while noting that as a registered Green Party voter, he couldn’t have ran as a Democrat even if he wanted to.

In-Depth: NYCHA Cuts

This week’s announcement of a potential budget cut to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) of between $35 and $150 million has quickly provoked outrage from tenants and housing advocates.

To better understand what’s at stake, it’s useful to place NYCHA in the context of both the national public housing landscape as well as recent trends towards privatization.

NYC has by far the largest public housing program in the nation, with over 170,000 units housing about 400,000 residents, in addition to over 90,000 households with Section 8 Vouchers. It is also considered one of the most successful housing authorities, as told in the 2009 book, “Public Housing that Worked: New York in the Twentieth Century.” Thanks to efficient management and a lack of stigma against high-rises, NYCHA has been able to withstand decades of attempts to dismantle public housing where many other US cities haven’t.

NYCHA’s annual operating budget is about $3 billion; so a $35 million cut, or around 1%, might not seem significant. But these cuts come in the context of increasing local publicity around NYCHA’s current budget shortfalls due to years of underfunding. A rally at city hall last month, spearheaded by Community Voices Heard, highlighted NYCHA’s $17 billion backlog of repairs and used the tagline “NYCHA is Making Me Sick!” Tenants and elected officials spoke about mold and pest infestations, broken locks, and heat and hot water outages. The 2016 budget backs this up, pointing out that from 2001 to 2015, annual federal capital grants have declined $114 million, or 27%, from $420 million to $306 million. It also highlights that keeping funding level year to year is not enough, because costs (labor, utilities, etc.) increase constantly.

De Blasio’s idea for meeting budget shortfalls is the “NYCHA NextGen Neighborhoods” program, which would sell off open space in some public housing projects, such as parking lots or green space, to private developers to build a mix of market-rate and affordable units. The majority of the revenue would be directed at funding capital needs for the existing the housing stock, but understandably there’s pushback against the affordability breakdown because only 50% of new units would be affordable. Other concerns include a lack of clarity about how quickly the generated revenue would be available and the symbolism of watching new towers go up for market-rate apartments while your own building is crumbling.

Why this matters: Budget cuts for programs that are by design very reliant on public funding are part of a frequently deployed strategy to choke social services until they are undeniably inefficient, and then use that to justify privatization. Although the proposed cut, if it’s $35 million or $150 million or somewhere in between, is not a significant chunk of NYCHA’s budget, any targeted and unjustified cut at this point in NYCHA’s life can be seen as a deliberate attempt to justify current trends towards privatization or market-based solutions to meet budget shortfalls.

Contribute to The Thorn

We welcome submissions of in-depth articles, comics and illustrations from anyone in DSA. Whether you want to write for us or just know of stories we should be covering, please get in touch.

Subscribe to The Thorn

The Thorn is a weekly update on what's happening in local New York politics from a socialist perspective. Please sign up with us to receive an email every Monday morning.