New York City Public Housing Needs an Astounding Amount of Money

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The New York City Housing Authority oversees 176,000 apartments in our city, making it the nation’s largest public housing authority. It needs to spend so much money on repairs. So much money. The number is very big.

NYCHA is an example of two extremely important things: the bold, progressive political will necessary to create a truly huge urban public housing program that fills a desperate public need, and the incredible difficulty of properly funding such a program on an ongoing basis. Four hundred thousand New Yorkers live in NYCHA buildings. The agency has been billions of dollars in debt for many years. It needs a massive influx of funds from the federal government just to make repairs that are already necessary. How much money are we talking here? From the WSJ:

The sprawling network of 176,000 apartment units across the five boroughs needs an estimated $25 billion of repairs, up from $6 billion in 2005. Yet annual federal funding for the nation’s largest public-housing program hasn’t kept pace.

Residents of decaying brick towers battle leaking roofs and moldy walls, broken elevators and aging infrastructure. This winter, the housing authority’s ancient boilers gave out, leaving more than 320,000 people without heat or hot water.


To get a sense of scale, $25 bill is well over half of the annual budget of the entire federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. It ain’t gonna happen! The fact that the repair backlog has been allowed to reach this point is scandalous in and of itself. Here is the thing about building an enormous subsidized public housing program: It is not going to pay for itself. If it did it wouldn’t be subsidized public housing! Building a huge public housing system without at the same time locking in an ongoing revenue stream to pay for it is like spending all your money on a car and never buying gas. Except worse, because old people are freezing in their decrepit apartment. In conclusion, politicians are craven assholes.

Public housing is expensive. Then again, housing is a great thing to spend money on. Even as big as NYCHA is, it doesn’t begin to meet the demand for affordable housing in New York City. If it did, we wouldn’t have 63,000 homeless people in this city. We need public housing. But we also need generally affordable housing, and the only way to get that is to build enough housing to meet the demand for housing. So build more housing. Everywhere. A lot.