The Betances Houses in Mott Haven recently got a major facelift — new appliances, bathrooms, windows, security cameras and mold prevention fans – thrilling many of the residents there.
In a video from the New York Housing Authority released in February, residents at the newly renovated development praised the conversions spearheaded by the Rental Assistance Demonstration program.
“The main difference that I noticed after the renovation in my building: less people are hanging out in the hallways. There are less people loitering,” said Betances Houses resident Sonyi Lopez.
“They clean every day. They sweep the building,” Rafael Uriondo said. “The management is doing a great job over here.”
The Murphy Houses in East Tremont and the Baychester Houses in Baychester also just completed RAD renovations.
In a NYCHA press release, Betances Houses Resident Association President Giselle Gavin said, “I have lived at Betances Houses for many years and the improvements we have seen as a result of the RAD conversation are incredible.”
However, NYCHA residents in other developments say the upgrades comes at a great cost.
“It’s cosmetic surgery,” said Danny Barber, Citywide Council of Presidents chair. “NYCHA is good at slapping on band aids. This is just an extra-large band aid.”
Despite the Betances Houses 40 buildings stretching from 136th Street to 145th Street receiving plenty of upgrades from RAD, some see the federal program as a short-term solution to NYCHA’s issue that also risks high eviction rates.
The improvements were done under the RAD program from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. New York’s version of RAD is Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT).
Through RAD, NYCHA developments enter a 20-year, public-private partnership to help secure more money for renovations.
In the process, Section 9 developments (public housing) turn into Section 8 developments (private housing where a portion of rent is government subsidized). NYCHA considers the Section 8 Tenant Voucher a more reliable and valuable means of securing federal funding for repairs.
The buildings are then managed by a private company but still technically NYCHA-owned. In this case, Betances Houses are managed by Wavecrest Management Team. The Baychester/Murphy complexes are overseen by C+C Apartment Management, for which the development team is MBD Community Housing Corporation, L+M Development Partners, and the Camber Property Group.
According to NYCHA’s resources for residents, “Residents who transition to the Section 8 program will continue to pay 30% of their adjusted gross household income towards rent,” and “you will have the right to organize, and your resident association will continue to receive funding.” NYCHA is also required to consult with residents before applying for a RAD conversion.
Betances Houses’ 1,088 apartments are just a snippet of the 62,000 units NYCHA planned to renovate through RAD. That’s about 35% of all of the units in NYCHA’s Section 9 housing. To date, roughly 9,500 apartments across Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx have been converted to RAD, and more than 11,000 are currently in the process of converting.
RAD is similar to NYCHA’s Blueprint for Change, a hotly debated plan that would convert all of the city’s Section 9 housing into Section 8 through a public-private partnership and the creation of Public Housing Preservation Trust. It’s being spearheaded by NYCHA CEO Gregory Russ, who championed RAD during his time as Minneapolis Public Housing Authority executive director.
Cesar Yoc, who lives in the Section 9 Millbrook Houses and serves on Bronx Community Board 1, said his development isn’t in the best shape.
“The grounds are terrible,” he said. “Trash everywhere, trash cans overflowing, some rodents. There are issues in operations, too. People have put in tickets to fix the door, or something needs repainting or they’re worried about mold, and nothing is done.”
However, he sees no longevity to the improvements that RAD offers.
“It’s just not the answer,” he said. “It keeps the building up to date, but doesn’t move it forward to the future. Five years later, everything could be falling apart. You have to get things ready for the next 50 to 100 years, and RAD cannot do that.”
Yoc also fears a lack of accountability in RAD for repairs and maintenance.
In 2016, the Ocean Bay (Bayside) Apartments in Queens were the first NYCHA development to be converted to RAD. In a Feb. 2020 interview with The City, Ocean Bay resident Ashanti Bethea said, “The new guys [Wavecrest] came in and gave us new ceilings, wood floors, new tubs, toilets and radiators. But while that was nice, we’ve had more heating issues than before.”
Yoc said there’s no consistency in RAD, either. In one development, residents might be satisfied with the living arrangements and private management company, but in another it might be the exact opposite.
“One building might be good, but a thousand can be bad,” he said.
Under RAD’s Section 8 housing, residents are much more vulnerable to eviction, Barber said.
“What we see is Ocean Bay, the model of the RAD-PACT conversions of NYCHA. They have one of the highest eviction rates in the city,” he said.
According to eviction data collected by the city Department of Investigation and first published by City Limits, over a 26 month period from 2017 to 2019, 80 households were evicted at Ocean Bay (Bayside) Apartments. The next highest development, Brownsville (Brooklyn), had 39 evictions.
Jasmin Sanchez lives in Baruch Houses in Manhattan. She said there are alternatives to fixing public housing in the city.
“NYCHA likes to say the only way to save public housing is to enter into public-private partnerships, which is a false narrative,” she said.
Two proposed bills in the state Legislature come to mind when she pictures alternative funding for NYCHA, both from state Sen. Julia Salazar, who represents part of Brooklyn.
The first is Salazar’s tax the rich bill. It would create a new tax structure for New Yorkers who make at least $1 million per year. The second bill relates to mezzanine taxes. Salazar is proposing an expansion of the state’s mortgage recording tax to capture a percentage of the billions of untaxed dollars real estate investors use to bankroll their property acquisitions. In both bills, the extra money collected would go toward NYCHA capital improvements.
At the federal level, Sanchez said she supports Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders’s proposed Green New Deal, which would create jobs by contracting public housing residents to work on green improvements in their own buildings. Ocasio-Cortez’s district includes the eastern part of the Bronx.
“The Green New Deal is the only bill that calls for an investment in people,” Sanchez said. “No other bill cares about that.”
This story was updated on Mar. 22 to correct an error. NYCHA’s Baychester/Murphy Houses are managed by C + C Apartment Management. The development team is MBD Community Housing Corporation/L+M Development Partners/ Camber Property Group.