As the union representing workers responsible for maintaining New York City Housing Authority buildings, we at Local 237 Teamsters have had a front-row seat for the mismanagement and incompetence that has plagued the agency for the last several years.
Conditions in many buildings are still disgraceful, but change for the better has begun. When our workers ask for the resources or training needed to fix them, they are rejected. When residents speak out and ask for repair or reforms, they are met with deaf ears.
After years of this treatment, we took action. Local 237 convened a task force made up of many NYCHA stakeholders — tenants, housing experts, employees — to offer recommendations to improve the agency and fix its buildings.
Thanks to help from committed housing advocates and the press, we were able to draw attention to the conditions in NYCHA. We even helped to successfully change the management structure of the agency to make the board more inclusive with actual NYCHA tenants. The disrepair at NYCHA also be came a
major topic in this year’s mayoral campaign. Democratic Candidate Bill de Blasio has made improving NYCHA one of the cornerstones of his campaign. He has already publicly promised to clean house (no pun intended) at NYCHA and replace current Chairman John Rhea and the rest of his top staff.
De Blasio has said he intends to bring in executives with more public housing experience, which is music to our ears. Rhea was just not the right man for the job, always treating the agency like a business instead of the vital service provider that it is.
We must get back to providing New Yorkers with livable public housing and treating the residents there with the respect they deserve. No one is asking for luxury, but right now basic human needs are not being met. NYCHA employees must also be treated with respect, and given the tools they need to get the job done. The agency must stop its increasing reliance on outsourced work, which only brings poor results at the expense of the tenants.
The mission to improve NYCHA remains critical to the future of New York City and to de Blasio’s vision for it. De Blasio has repeatedly talked about a “tale of two cities.” NYCHA is, in fact, a city in itself with more than 400,000 residents. Helping those residents will go a long way to bridging the quality-of-life gap that exists in this city.
NYCHA is more than just affordable housing for New York residents. It is a gateway used by generations of New Yorkers to get into the middle class and achieve a better life for themselves and their children. It allows people to live here and take advantage of all the opportunities that New York City has to offer.
But people who live with broken appliances, leaky plumbing, and moldy walls, to name a few common adversities, are less likely to succeed at work and school. For New York to be able to achieve its mission as a city for everyone, we must allow NYCHA to achieve its own mission: to provide decent and affordable housing in a safe and secure living environment for low- and moderate- income residents throughout the five boroughs.
That is why we must recommit ourselves to improving public housing. As we have said on numerous occasions, this process begins by listening to tenants and employees and creating real solutions that help people, not just improve the bottom line. Together, we can transform NYCHA from a stain on New York City’s reputation to a shining example to the rest of the nation.