NYCHA tenants’ rent arrears surge to $443M

Shortfall in collection imperiling apartment fixes; ERAP partially to blame

Private landlords weren’t the only ones slammed by the pandemic and the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

New York City Housing Authority tenants skipped rent too, racking up nearly half a billion dollars in arrears and limiting the authority’s ability to make critical repairs to its apartments.

Unpaid rent at public housing has surged to $443 million, authority officials told The City. That’s more than four times greater than existed at the start of the pandemic.

Part of the issue is a lack of reimbursement through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. While NYCHA is eligible to receive reimbursement through ERAP, the program pushes its residents to the back of the line. So far, NYCHA hasn’t collected a dime from ERAP for tenants’ arrears.

Private landlords were initially able to get hundreds of millions of dollars from the program, but it ran out of money — yet continues fielding applications from tenants and shielding them from eviction for months while paperwork is pending.

Read more

In addition to a big gap in revenue, NYCHA’s arrears are contributing to its failure to comply with a 2019 court agreement to repair buildings. One-third of NYCHA’s operating budget comes from rental income.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

The agreement followed an investigation that revealed NYCHA officials lied for years about the conditions of its 177,569 apartments. Under the agreement, the authority faced timelines to fix broken boilers and dysfunctional elevators and eliminate toxic mold, vermin and poisonous lead paint.

The agency has replaced only two elevators in the past four years, the Daily News reported.

NYCHA recently informed a federal monitor that the authority’s ability to stay on schedule is imperiled by the drop in rental revenue.

“We’ve been incredibly transparent and I believe they know that we have the will, we just don’t have the revenue,” NYCHA interim CEO Lisa Bova-Hiatt said, according to the publication, referring to parties to the agreement such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Southern District.

NYCHA tenants were fearing eviction earlier this year as they racked up rent arrears. NYCHA was owed more than $364 million in rent for 2021, the largest amount of unpaid rent in the authority’s history. That number has only ballooned since.

Shortly after an arsenic scare at the authority’s Jacob Riis Houses in September, Mayor Eric Adams relegated Gregory Russ to the role of chairman, removing him as chief executive of the nation’s largest public housing authority.

Russ had spearheaded a successful and ongoing effort to move NYCHA developments from Section 9 federal funding to more reliable Section 8. But he had been hired by the de Blasio administration and never moved to New York full time from Minnesota.

— Holden Walter-Warner