The Real Deal New York

NYCHA chair Olatoye calls lack of policy guidance from Ben Carson “almost unconscionable”

Affordable housing leaders bemoan “holistic attack” on funding
By Konrad Putzier | December 06, 2017 03:10PM

From left: Lynne Patton, Shola Olatoye and Maria Torres-Springer (Credit: Getty Images and Sasha Maslov)

As lawmakers in Washington D.C. debate whether and by how much to cut funding for public housing, New York policymakers cast a worried eye on the future.

“Let me be clear that there is a war on affordable housing that is being waged across this country,” Maria Torres-Springer, commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said on a panel at the New York Housing Conference’s annual awards event Wednesday morning.

New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas bemoaned a “holistic attack on every tool that we have in order to preserve existing housing now,” citing proposals to scrap private activity bonds and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s home-buyer program and the potential impact of tax reform on low-income housing tax credits.

Visnauskas and Torres-Springer shared the stage with New York City Housing Authority chair Shola Olatoye and HUD regional administrator Lynne Patton. As the sole representative of the Republican-controlled federal government, Patton seemed like the odd one out. But she portrayed herself as an ally willing to push for more federal funding, and the other panelists took her by her word.

“I have been heartened by what is clearly a willingness to partake in this fight,” Torres-Springer said, referring to Patton. Olatoye thanked Patton, who has no experience in public housing, for her “studiousness” since joining HUD. “I believe her when she says she acknowledges the very real need” of funding public housing, Olatoye said.

But Olatoye also sharply criticized the lack of policy direction from HUD Secretary Ben Carson. “We have not seen a clear policy vision from this HUD secretary about what the future of some two or three million households across this country can expect,” she said. While she said she supports Carson’s push to help households gain financial independence, she also urged the agency to “not lose sight of the point, which is people’s homes are falling apart and continue to deteriorate” because of federal funding cuts.

“I find it almost unconscionable that we could be almost a year into this administration and not have a clear sense of how agencies such as NYCHA and the other 3,200 public housing agencies are meant to operate given the significant capital need that we’re faced with,” she said.

Olatoye has been in the news lately about her agency’s failure to inspect thousands of apartments for lead, but the subject didn’t come up during the discussion, which was moderated by New York Institute of Technology social scientist Nicholas Bloom.

Patton, meanwhile, said she has been working hard in recent weeks to convince lawmakers to preserve private activity bonds, a crucial funding source for affordable housing. “I am nobody’s patsy,” she said. “I’m here because I actually care about the struggles and the advocacy that you guys do in this room. I certainly could have take a job inside the White House where my emails aren’t FOIA’d every two days.”