Public housing tenants are not immune to the housing crisis facing New York City

Many residential tenants in New York City receive some protections against extortorionous spikes in rent and other forms of abuse or exploitation, like harassment, due to rent regulations. Although there is a preconception that tenants of public housing have it better, relatively speaking, than tenants of private sector housing, tenants of public housing developments have increasingly faced toxic living conditions, such as exposure to mold and lead in both paint and drinking water ; discrimination without due process ; a creeping of private sector landlords into public housing assets ; cuts in services ; and legal action from the agency that provides public housing. Combined, these situations are making tenants of public housing face living conditions that betray the promise that housing is a human right.


Public housing was created to treat housing as a public sector duty

New York’s public housing system, referred to by the name of the Agency that administers it, the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, was created during the Great Depression. Leading up to the founding of NYCHA, a great public debate engulfed New York City about housing being made accessible as a social good. According to a 1934 article in the New York Times, public opinion regarded the provision of housing as a public sector duty.

Public opinion about housing in 1934

"More than 800 delegates, claiming to represent 750,000 workers, at a meeting last night at Washington Irving High School enthusiastically enodrsed a resolution calling on the city and State to recognize housing construction and maintenance as a "public enterprise" in the same category as transportation and education."

We need to renew the promise of housing as a human right

NYCHA faces a capital improvement budget estimated to exceed $17 billion. NYCHA is also subject to mass tort litigation over its tenants’ exposure or risk of exposure to mold and lead. And NYCHA and its officials have become the target of a Federal investigation into the physical condition standards of its public housing developments. Because the Federal Government, New York State, and New York City have been defunding public housing, we are violating the social promise we made to each other during the New Deal that housing was a public good that needed to provided by the public sector, very much like how we provide for public education and public transportation. It is time that we renew our promise to provide housing as a public sector duty — and as a human right.