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Housing crunch - In the red, NYCHA faces cuts

Facing a budget deficit of $611 million, the New York City Housing Authority is considering cutting programs and consolidating community centers, while continuing to make payments of $226 million to the city for a number of services the city provides.

“NYCHA has lost over $611 million in funding due to the ongoing disinvestment in public housing at the federal level,” said Milie Molina, Deputy Director of Communications with NYCHA. “We receive no funding for community-based programs. Barring new funding to support our unfunded community centers and programs, NYCHA will be forced to imminently take these tough actions.”

NYCHA, the city’s public housing authority and the largest such organization in North America, provides housing for over 408,000 low- and moderate-income households in New York City. The agency manages 178,000 apartments in 343 buildings throughout the city, including 100 in Brooklyn.

On June 18, the City Council’s Subcommittee on Public Housing held an oversight hearing to examine how NYCHA’s payments to the city have affected its escalating budget crisis. According to NYCHA’s Fiscal 2008 preliminary budget, there is a deficit of $170 million in the authority’s operating budget, with similar gaps expected over the next four years. NYCHA continues to make $25 million in payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to the city, $30 million to the Department of Aging, and $73 million to the NYPD for police services.

City Councilmembers Erik Dilan and Rosie Mendez have been negotiating with NYCHA and the mayor’s office to restore $70 million in funding, in particular for NYCHA senior and community centers.

Community and senior centers could be particularly vulnerable if the budget shortfall is not met. In Brooklyn, there are 17 NYCHA-operated senior centers and 37 NYCHA-operated community centers. Citywide, NYCHA programs within these community centers, such as music programs, English as a Second Language, and gardening classes for seniors, could see reductions in staff or elimination entirely if the budget issues are not resolved this year.

“There are a lot of essential programs and valuable centers that are at risk, such as the Partners in reading program. NYCHA youth chorus, NYCHA senior chorus, that would be affected as well,” Molina said. “All the senior and community centers are at risk.”

Gregory Bender, a policy analyst with United Neighborhood Houses, called for the elimination of NYCHA’s payments in lieu of taxes to the city in order to help stabilize the agency’s budget.

“It is incumbent upon the city to ensure that public housing residents do not fall victim to such drastic service reductions,” Bender said in his testimony. “The city must commit the funding necessary to support senior centers, space for after-school and child care programs and community center programs.”

Dilan, chair of the Housing Committee who has taken an active role in the NYCHA budget negotiations, believes that it is too early to tell what services or programs could be reduced when the budget is approved.

“I hope there’s some willingness on both sides to save the centers,” Dilan said. “I’m not certain, but I imagine that maintenance will get cut. They’ve already let go of some employees. Every facet of NYCHA is in jeopardy.”

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