No heat. Leaking roofs. Mold and pests. Interminable waits for basic repairs.
Public housing in New York City has become synonymous with the dilapidated living conditions many of its more than 400,000 residents have endured in recent years.
But it wasn’t always like this in the 325 housing projects owned and managed by the New York City Housing Authority, also known as Nycha. The country’s largest public housing system was once a seemingly reliable option for the working poor . Nycha successfully endured some of New York City’s most turbulent eras while other public housing buildings across the country came tumbling down.
Now, Nycha is at a crossroads. As part of a settlement in June in which Nycha admitted to covering up its actions and lying to the federal government, a court-appointed monitor will soon oversee the beleaguered agency as it tries to come up with billions of dollars to keep thousands of its aging buildings habitable for decades to come.
To understand how Nycha arrived at this point, we combed through our photo archives for forgotten images and spoke to longtime residents, former housing officials, historians and others about the housing authority’s often overlooked and surprising eight-decade history. That story, in their words, is below.
A Progressive Housing Solution to Fix New York City
Nycha was founded in 1934 as Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia’s antidote to the shoddy tenements of New York City’s housing crisis during the Great Depression. Public housing was trumpeted as the duty of progressive government, and the swift construction of sprawling complexes became a slum-clearing machine that reshaped the city’s urban landscape.
But Nycha developments were not poorhouses: Unlike other cities, New York effectively barred lower-income residents from public housing. From 1953 to 1968, it excluded most residents on welfare by screening applicants using a list of moral factors, including alcoholism, irregular work history, single motherhood and lack of furniture.
Richard Plunz Professor and author of “A History of Housing in New York City”
[Nycha] was a creation of liberal politics in New York. In the depth of the Depression there had to be jobs and housing that people could afford.
Nicholas D. Bloom Professor and author of “Public Housing That Worked”
They were relatively low-rise walk-ups built to extraordinarily high-quality standards. Basically, as good or better as middle-class housing. They were built for a very carefully-selected tenancy, mostly working families that even during the Depression had no social service background or history.
Natividad Nieves, 78 Resident of the Queensbridge Houses in Queens since 1945
When my mother came, only white people lived here, until the 1950s.
The problem of this housing, though, was that it was too good in many people’s eyes. The response was projects like the Queensbridge Houses: much bigger projects, more repetitive design, units finished at a much more basic level, and a lot of economizing done.
Elaine Walker, 80 Resident of the Queensbridge Houses since 1958
In my day, the staff was the best. They had their job, they did their job, and they were qualified for their job. You’d call, and it would be fixed right away.
The amazing thing about New York is the scale of this.
You have 69 projects with over 1,000 units by the 1960s. That’s amazing, and these are enormous developments that are created. Maintaining such a big system was already a challenge, but by then it was too late. The genie had left the bottle.
A Changing Mission, and New Problems
Nycha was housing about 500,000 New Yorkers by the sixties. Minority residents now outnumbered whites, but the percentage of tenants on welfare was just half the national average for public housing.
Nycha loosened its selectivity in 1968, under immense pressure from the federal government and social justice activists, and the percentage of residents on public assistance doubled by the early seventies. And by the eighties, many of New York City’s troubles also plagued housing developments : crime, drugs, vandalism.
However, the authority’s robust management capabilities, financial resources and tough policing kept it afloat while public housing in the rest of the nation spiraled into disrepair and demolishment.
The number of social issues increased significantly. The challenge managerially went up. They had to replace an enormous number of windows, and elevator maintenance became much more difficult because of the vandalism. It was a break-and-repair kind of cycle.
There would be mailboxes bashed into and broken. Because back then, everyone was getting paper checks, for their jobs or welfare. So you could cash them in anywhere. It didn’t matter who you were.
Joseph Shuldiner General manager at Nycha from 1986 to 1990
Obviously the authority had much more staff at that time. We had 17,000 employees, not including the 2,700 police officers. The authority at that time had its own police force. My impression in those days is that there was a lot of capacity. There wasn’t unlimited money. We couldn’t renovate every building out there, but if a problem came along there was enough money to address that particular problem.
Gregory Umbach Professor and author of “The Last Neighborhood Cops”
As New York falls apart in the 1970s, in ways that have been largely forgotten, the housing authority’s projects were anchors of stability and safety. They were places that you wanted to get into as the neighborhoods were deteriorating around you. All of this changes in the late 1980s. The 1980s is the first time when you’re more at risk of criminal violence on Nycha property than you are in the surrounding neighborhood.
L.B. Tillman, 43 Resident of the Marcy Houses in Brooklyn since 1975
When the crack epidemic came, it took over. There were fights everyday, shootouts everyday, people playing music outside of your building to get someone out to fight.
Patrick Conry, 54 Assistant chief at the New York Police Department and former member of the Housing Authority Police Department
It was a very small percentage of bad actors having a huge impact on the quality of life for hard-working people. We always felt like we were the underdogs. We were doing the most difficult job in the city while at the same time being looked down upon as second-class for not being N.Y.P.D.
Earline Jenkins, 70 Resident of the Grant Houses in Manhattan since 1976
Every place you step, you would step on a crack bottle, back in the ’80s, a long time ago. In Grant, you would be afraid to walk down the steps because they had a bunch of crack bottles and they get stuck in the groove of your shoe.
At that time, cameras were not prevalent to the extent that they are now. We also had a fairly active tenant patrol where residents would volunteer and sit in lobbies and check in people coming in and out.
The first day on patrol in the Farragut Houses, I got hit with a padlock. It grazed my face. There were some people that did not want us there because we were interfering with their business. I saw objects as big as a living room couch thrown off the roof of a building onto a police car. Those were the bad old days. You don’t hear those stories anymore.
An Era of Defunding Begins
By the turn of the century, the idea of government as landlord went out of fashion. Suddenly, Nycha became a victim of disinvestment as all levels of government steered billions of dollars away from the agency.
The housing authority’s operating deficits and mounting costs to maintain and renovate its aging 2,462 buildings quickly impacted living conditions. Hurricane Sandy’s wrath and last winter’s frigid temperatures further exposed the buildings’ vulnerabilities.
Mismanagement followed, and the authority admitted in June to lying, covering up missed lead inspections and deceiving federal inspectors. Now, Nycha is waiting on a federal monitor and the infusion of at least $2 billion in city funds, although even that might be a drop in the bucket next to the system’s estimated $25 billion in unmet capital needs .
Everything is getting old at once, because everything was kind of built at once. So it’s like a 30-year window where almost all of public housing was built, and now we’re in that 30-year window where it’s going to be totally revamped or redeveloped. A lot of these buildings have had more than your normal wear and tear.
Greg Floyd President of Teamsters Local 237, which represents 8,000 Nycha employees
They stopped doing preventive maintenance, which led to a lot of boilers not working. You have to service the boilers in the summer so they’re ready for the winter, and that stopped being done because they didn’t have the staff to do it.
Now, it’s different. It takes time, because there’s a backlog. I called for a paint job in May and they’re coming in August. It can take months for anything.
Miriam Booth, 55 Resident of the Astoria Houses in Queens since 1996
Recently, we didn’t have hot water for three days. So you couldn’t take a bath or shower.
It was built under a model where tenant incomes would increase, and thus rents would increase in proportion. But the thing in New York, as in other cities, is that the income of the residents in public housing, as opposed to the private market, have not kept pace with society or the cost of maintaining these buildings.
Tino Hernandez Chairman at Nycha from 2001 to 2008
I did some things that were kind of radical. I raised rents, but I did it in a way that really took people’s fixed incomes into consideration.
Sandy’s effect on Nycha put the icing on the cake. Nycha was in decay already. Hurricane Sandy and the developments that it hit really devastated the properties, because the boilers and electricity were located in the basements. Sandy came in and really finished the job — in the Rockaways, in Coney Island, in the Lower East Side.
The authority doesn’t have the reputation it had 30 years ago. It was considered the best large housing authority in the United States. People wanted to work for us. People wanted to live there. It was a better attitude all-around.
Robert Harrison, 77 Resident of the St. Nicholas Houses in Harlem since 1975
In the seventies it was great. They would fix up anything that you needed. They used to have two people working in each building. We don’t have that anymore.
Still today, with all its problems, Nycha hasn’t folded. Part of that is because of demand for housing in New York, of course. But it’s amazing how they’ve been able to adapt to attrition. It remains a model of how to survive.
I’m heartbroken because this is an important resource for poor people in New York City.
So what's the easiest state to get section 8? You guessed it South Dakota!Why was NYCHA created? ›
In February 1934 the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the city's new public-housing agency, began its state-mandated mission to provide for “the clearance, replanning, and recon- struction” of the slum districts of New York.Who founded NYCHA? ›
Nycha was founded in 1934 as Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia's antidote to the shoddy tenements of New York City's housing crisis during the Great Depression.When New York City public housing goes private it can get worse report says? ›
New York City's five-year-old plan to turn public housing over to private management has eroded tenant protections and may be driving an increase in evictions, according to a report published Thursday by a leading watchdog group.What state is best for low-income? ›
States like Indiana, Kansas, and Missouri offer affordable housing costs and good median household incomes. What state has the lowest cost of living? The state with the lowest cost of living is Mississippi, though states like Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee are also among states with the lowest living costs.What state has the best low-income apartments? ›
Housing score: 246.8
Iowa ranked No. 1 for the 2019 Best States affordability ranking, which considers both housing affordability and cost of living.
Nycha pays an average salary of $419,308 and salaries range from a low of $363,033 to a high of $480,726. Individual salaries will, of course, vary depending on the job, department, location, as well as the individual skills and education of each employee.Can you sue NYCHA for negligence? ›
NYCHA could be responsible and held accountable if their negligence or recklessness leads to an injury. If you were injured on NYCHA property, you could pursue a premises liability claim against the city.Can I live in NYCHA with no income? ›
If your hours have been cut at work, or if you have lost your job, you can complete an Interim Recertification immediately. As a public housing resident, your rent will always be 30 percent of your household income. If you have no income at this time, your rent will be zero.Can felons live in NYCHA? ›
NYCHA conducts criminal background checks on applicants who are applying for NYCHA apartments and family members who wish to join a household temporarily or permanently. For people with recent criminal histories, convictions may influence their eligibility to live in NYCHA.
If the head of household moves out or dies, a remaining family member can take over the apartment. If NYCHA denies your request to take over the lease you will have to file a Grievance.Why is public housing failing in the US? ›
Inadequate funding, poor maintenance, and media sensationalization helped create a narrative of substandard slum living, and the system set up to help so many hardly stood a chance. Here is how the public housing system was doomed to failure.Are public housing projects successful? ›
Although the concept behind public housing is indeed very inspiring, not all projects end up being successful. In fact, the first few attempts made resulted in complete failure. High crime rates, drug abuse, and violation were common features, especially in areas isolated from the surrounding communities.Who qualifies for NYC public housing? ›
You may be eligible for an apartment if:
|Person(s) in Family||Income Limits|
2. Kansas. The great state of Kansas is the second cheapest state to live in with a score of 86.5. Housing is particularly affordable, coming in as the third-cheapest housing costs in the nation with the median cost of a single-family home at around $176,898.What is the best state to live in if you're rich? ›
|Overall Rank||State||Top Decile Income Rank|
- Alabama (87.9)
- Oklahoma (87.9)
- Georgia (88.8)
- Tennessee (89)
- Missouri (89.8)
- Iowa (89.9)
- West Virginia (90.5)
- Indiana (90.6)
Cheap rent can be found in Midwest, South
And specifically, Texas had the most cities with the cheapest rent, filling seven of the top 20 spots — all with monthly rents under $1,000. Overall, the city with the cheapest average rent in the U.S. was listed as Wichita, Kansas, with a population of nearly 400,000.
Overall, renters have experienced a 15% increase in housing costs since February 2021. As mortgage rates rise, it becomes more expensive to buy, which boosts demand for rentals and allows landlords to charge more. Tulsa, Oklahoma has the cheapest rent in the U.S.
1. Detroit, Michigan. The Motor City tops the list of most affordable places to buy a home. Despite the median salary being among the lowest of the affordable cities on this list, so are home prices.How much do NYCHA janitors make? ›
Average NYC Housing Authority Janitor yearly pay in New York is approximately $43,269, which is 32% above the national average.How much does a union doorman in NYC make? ›
How much does an Union Doorman make in New York? As of Nov 3, 2022, the average annual pay for an Union Doorman in New York is $43,947 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $21.13 an hour. This is the equivalent of $845/week or $3,662/month.How much does a NYCHA caretaker make an hour? ›
The estimated total pay for a Caretaker at New York City Housing Authority is $20 per hour. This number represents the median, which is the midpoint of the ranges from our proprietary Total Pay Estimate model and based on salaries collected from our users. The estimated base pay is $20 per hour.What happens if you dont pay NYCHA rent? ›
NYCHA will take people directly to court for as little as one month's rent due. (2) The tenant of record (who signed the lease) moved out or died: NYCHA will go to court to evict you as a licensee (living there with permission from the tenant of record) or squatter (living there without permission).Can NYCHA kick you out? ›
A violation of NYCHA's lease terms for non-desirable behavior is a basis for termination.What happens if you don't report your income to NYCHA? ›
NYCHA asks you to provide proof of your income every year. If you do not verify your income for the annual review, your rent will go up sharply. NYCHA will also check your income in other ways. If you do not verify your income, or if you misrepresent it, NYCHA is likely to start proceedings to evict you.How can I get a free apartment? ›
- Teach English Abroad. If you've got the travel bug, consider teaching abroad. ...
- Volunteer With Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. ...
- Become an Au Pair. ...
- Trade Services for Free Rent. ...
- Become a House Sitter. ...
- Become a Resident Assistant at Your College. ...
- Find a Job That Provides Housing.
Without a salary, the best bet is to find a guarantor, usually a parent or relative who lives in the tri-state area. They must earn at least 80 times your monthly rent so they can cover your rent and their own expenses, if you run into financial trouble.How do people afford rent in NYC? ›
Most NYC landlords use a 40x rent rule, so your annual salary will need to be 40x the monthly rent to qualify for most apartments. For example, if you wanted to rent a $1,500 per month apartment you should make $60,000 a year.
Criminal history can't be part of the hiring process until after a job offer. That means you get a fair chance, and employers get to consider more candidates.Can you have a dryer in NYCHA? ›
Every appliances must be electric powered, and require an electric circuit of not more than 110/115 volts and 7.5 amperes. Electric or gas clothes dryers, even if part of a washer/dryer combination unit, are prohibited. 4.Can a felon get an apartment in NYC? ›
The landlord may provide a good reason for refusing residence to individual cases, but cannot turn down all applicants with criminal records without considering each person on a case by case basis. Many crimes count as felonies, but not all of them should bar a person from obtaining housing.What US city has the most housing projects? ›
- New housing units per 10k: 147.7.
- Total new housing units: 32,025.
- Share of new housing units that are multi-family: 43.3%
- Total value of new housing units (millions): $5,802.
- Median home value: $331,525.
- 5-year population growth: 15.2%
With more than 180,000 public housing units, the New York City Housing Authority is by far the nation's largest public housing authority (PHA).What is the largest public housing in the world? ›
The world's largest housing project is in North America, The Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City. It comprises 3,142 apartment units and the complex opened in 1939.Who pays rent after death? ›
Family member or joint tenant
If you're a joint tenant, you have the right to take over the tenancy and stay in your home. The surviving joint tenant is responsible for any rent arrears on the property.
Am I entitled to have my apartment painted? Yes, the landlord must paint occupied apartments in multiple dwellings (buildings with three or more apartments) every three years. (NYC Administrative Code §27-2013). Tenant occupied apartments in private dwellings are also required to be painted as necessary.How long do the Council give you to clear a house after a death? ›
How long do you have to clear a council house after death? In the sad event a member of your family dies you will need to clear the deceased property of all items and return the keys at the end of any notice period you are given. In most cases this is usually around 4 weeks.How does public housing affect the economy? ›
As a long-term asset, public housing provides decent housing to the nation's most vulnerable citizens, connects low-income workers to economic opportunities, and spurs regional job creation and economic growth.
The most significant disadvantage of public housing is that it can lead residents to become socially isolated. In some densely populated cities in the United States, social housing is always available. Most of the residents live in large apartment buildings primarily designed to have affordable housing options.What are the negative effects of housing? ›
Substandard housing such as water leaks, poor ventilation, dirty carpets and pest infestation can lead to an increase in mold, mites and other allergens associated with poor health.Why is public housing so important? ›
Decent, affordable housing reduces stress, toxins, and infectious disease, which leads to improvement in both physical and mental health. Affordable housing also frees up funds within families' tight budgets to spend on health care and food.How many housing projects are there in NYC? ›
NYCHA is home to roughly 1 in 15 New Yorkers across over 177,000 apartments within 335 housing developments.How many people live in housing projects in NYC? ›
NYCHA serves over 339,900 residents in 162,143 apartments within 277 housing developments through the conventional public housing program (Section 9).What credit score do you need for NYC housing Connect? ›
You may be accepted with a FICO credit score of 580 without further review of financial stability. If your score is below 580, you may not be rejected unless you fail to meet other factors associated to eviction/landlord-tenant action and other credit findings.How long does the NYC housing lottery take? ›
You may hear about the status of your application within two to ten months after the deadline. However, because there are so many applications, you may not be contacted, even if you qualify for the property for which you applied.Who qualifies for low income housing in NYC? ›
According to HUD, in order for an individual to qualify for affordable housing, he or she must be earning between the bracket of $36,000 and $52,150 annually. Similarly, a family of four that lives off a net income of $31,300 annually would be considered extremely low income.How long is the Section 8 waiting list in Virginia? ›
It can take two to five years (or more) to move to the top of a housing waitlist. Applicants must then prove that they qualify. To learn when your local housing waitlists are open, check your local newspaper, social service organizations and/or websites. Call to find out when the waitlist is accepting new applications.Which city has the most Section 8 housing? ›
New York Housing Authority: 90,000 Vouchers: NYCHA administers the largest Section 8 program in the country.
If you are in need of Immediate Assistance please call 2-1-1 or visit (http://www.211info.org) resources are available at the local level.How can I get Section 8 immediately in NJ? ›
Public Housing and Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8)
To apply for either type of help, visit your local Public Housing Agency (PHA). Some PHAs have long waiting lists, so you may want to apply at more than one PHA. Your PHA can also give you a list of locations at which your voucher can be used.
|Number of People||Income Limits (FY 2021)|
A section 8 notice must give you either 2 weeks or 2 months depending on which ground the landlord is using. A ground is a legal reason for eviction.How quick is a Section 8? ›
They have to give you the notice at least 14 days before they evict you. Depending on the ground your landlord has used, you might be able to ask the court again to delay the date you'll need to leave.Which city has the most rent? ›
New York City logged the highest rent in the U.S. in August 2022. Residents paid an average of $6,164.61 last month. That's an 24.8 percent increase year-over-year. It's also $1,345.41 more than renters in the second city on this list, Palo Alto, CA, paid during the same survey period.What is the most Section 8 will pay? ›
Section 8 has been helping low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled since the 1970s. If you qualify for a voucher, you won't pay more than 40% of your monthly income on rent. The rest will be covered by the government.Can I move anywhere in US with Section 8? ›
Households that receive help with their rent through the federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance program can move with their rental assistance to any rental unit anywhere in the United States.What is low income Oregon 2022? ›
The Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) has increased the income limits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) program to 200% of the federal poverty level, or $2,147 a month for an individual or $3,660 for a family of three.Do landlords have to accept Section 8 in Oregon? ›
Eligibility Requirements To be eligible for the program, landlords must have leased to tenants through the HUD Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8.
- Contact a homeless service provider in your community.
- Find local community development and affordable housing contacts.
- Search justshelter.org to find community organizations working to preserve affordable housing, prevent eviction, and reduce family homelessness.
|Unit Type||by Unit Type Maximum Rent|
Participants in the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs' (DCA) Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program are eligible for this program and could become homeowners provided they meet all Section 8 Homeownership Program eligibility requirements.What qualifies for low income housing in NJ? ›
Typically, federal and state housing programs restrict eligibility to households with earnings that must be at or below 80 percent of the median family income (MFI) for the county where the housing is located.