Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) official Lynne Patton has promised residents of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) properties that change is coming.
“Everybody knows that NYCHA is a humanitarian crisis,” Patton says, noting that 82% of residents of the nation’s largest housing authority went without heat or hot water at some point last year.
A report released in mid-2018 shows that NYCHA needs almost $32 billion to meet its capital needs over the next five years. With problems plaguing properties and residents, NYCHA and HUD came to an agreement at the end of January for more federal oversight, more investment from the city to address longstanding issues, and the appointment of a federal monitor instead of NYCHA being placed into federal receivership.
For the past two years as the HUD Region II regional administrator, overseeing New Jersey and New York, the headline-making Patton has been touring NYCHA properties, attending tenant meetings, and seeing the property conditions. However, she says when she’s been on site for an hour or two, she noticed NYCHA maintenance showing up to do work.
But after thousands of NYCHA residents went without heat or hot water on Thanksgiving Day, she says she knew something had to be done. “I thought what would happen if I ever lived there full time,” Patton says. “Could I at least bring immediate repairs to the developments on the ground?”
In what some have called a publicity stunt, she has spent a month living with residents and seeing the conditions they face on a daily basis. Patton had stayed with residents in Frederick Douglass Houses in Manhattan, Queensbridge Houses in Queens, Patterson Houses in the Bronx, and just this week Fenimore-Lefferts Houses in Brooklyn. She has elevated residents’ stories by showing the peeling paint, mold, rodents, bugs, broken elevators, leaks, and the lack of hot water.
“For me, this is about bringing attention to a crisis that I’ve been visiting for the past two years,” she says. “There’s no NYCHA project that is in good condition across the board.”
Her big question is where does the almost $30 million that NYCHA receives per week from HUD in operational and capital funds go and that will be one of the first things the federal monitor will figure out. “NYCHA is not spending taxpayer dollars efficiently in my opinion,” she says.
Patton also adds that more permanent boilers, exterior compactors, and maintenance workers would make a significant impact.
At the same time, public housing authorities across the country have struggled to maintain their aging buildings amid federal cuts. During its first two years, the Trump administration has sought to severely slash funding for public housing.
The city announced on March 7 that it will spend $300 million on new boilers for 10 public housing developments. This was just one day after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said hewould issue an emergency declaration to expedite repairs at NYCHA properties.
“There’s no way that change is not going to happen. I am determined to make it happen hell or high water,” says Patton, a longtime Trump family associate who was appointed to her post in 2017 despite having little housing policy experience.
For Patton, NYCHA is not her only priority. “For me, it’s about changing policies that are working here,” she says.
She’s part of the REAC task force that is looking to reform the inspection process and working to lift Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements off of Rental Assistance Demonstration Component 2 conversions so that developers can put more money toward sustainable materials and a bigger scope for the rehabilitation of properties. “That’s a win-win for residents,” she says.