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Housing Bill Passes Thanks to North Brooklyn Electeds

A piece of groundbreaking housing legislation that will allow the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to access federal funding for 21 city and state developments passed the State Assembly on Monday, and shortly thereafter the State Senate on Wednesday afternoon.

The bill, which will for the first time guarantee a federal funding stream for city and state public housing developments, was authored and sponsored by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, and will provide NYCHA with roughly $200 million federal dollars to be received this year, and an additional $100 million every year thereafter. Of that $100 million, approximately $70 million will go towards operation costs, while the remaining $30 million will be earmarked for capital improvements.

“Over the last 25 years public housing advocates have been trying to find a way to adequately fund state and city public housing developments,” said Lopez, who chairs the State Assembly Housing Committee. He worked closely with his staff housing expert, Debra Feinberg, who played an integral role in crafting and coordinating the legislation. “We found a unique way of setting up a mechanism through a non-for-profit hybrid run by NYCHA that would access federal housing dollars. This is a big victory for people who have struggled and a big victory for advocates. It’s probably one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed this year and I’m proud to be part of it.”

The bill authorizes NYCHA to enter into a mixed-finance transaction—or partnership—with an outside entity. In this partnership, all housing stock will remain affordable, and NYCHA will continue to manage the developments as they always have, albeit with a significant increase in funding from the federal government.

“This bill will allow New York City’s public housing authority to bring in more than $75 million a year in federal aid — a massive investment to address its operating deficit and dramatically improve housing for more than 400,000 tenants,” said Senator Daniel Squadron, who carried the bill through the senate. “Every single NYCHA resident will benefit from filling the funding gap left by the State and City, which will help us fix broken elevators, avoid heat outages and address the basic maintenance problems that public housing tenants contend with every day.”

The bill comes in response to an offer put forth by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which pledged to provide NYCHA with a one-time opportunity to address the development deficits generated at the state and city level. Hence, the timeliness of the bill: NYCHA was required to employ HUD’s mixed-finance approach for public housing developments on or no later than March 17, 2010.

In addition to outstanding support from Greenpoint/Williamsburg representatives on a state level—Assemblyman Lopez and Senator Squadron both represent large chunks of North Brooklyn—33rd District Councilmember Stephen Levin recently introduced an accompanying resolution in the city council.

“I am proud to voice my support for Assemblyman Lopez’s bill to federalize NYCHA developments by introducing an accompanying resolution in the City Council,” Levin said. “In my district, this bill will federalize Independence Towers and Jonathan Williams Plaza, which will expand operating subsidies and bring new capital support for the developments from the federal government.”

According to Lopez, the funding should begin trickling down sometime in 2010.

“It is my hope that in two or three years, that city and state developments will be on par with federal developments,” Lopez said. “The modernization needs of state and city developments that have been on hold for ten to fifteen years will now finally start to be addressed.”

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