The Daily Dirt: NYCHA blames tight housing market for its struggle to fix apartments

Agency says it costs an average of $375K to rehabilitate a unit

City’s Low Vacancy Rate Slows NYCHA Rehabs
NYCHA's Lisa Bova-Hiatt and Jamie Rubin (NYCHA, Getty)

Why is NYCHA’s vacancy rate three times higher than the city’s?

Last week, we noted that the Housing Authority struggles to fill units, despite a nearly endless waiting list. On Wednesday, the agency’s leaders addressed the issue at a Citizens Budget Commission breakfast.

NYCHA’s website shows its vacancy rate is 3.3 percent, or 5.5 percent if you count the units it reserves for tenants associations and office use.

Yet at the breakfast, CEO Lisa Bova-Hiatt and board chair Jamie Rubin said the citywide vacancy rate of 1.4 percent makes it hard to temporarily move tenants out to rehabilitate aging units, which is needed to reduce its high operating costs. Bova-Hiatt called it “one of the greatest challenges we have.”

My immediate thought was: But you have 8,700 apartments with no tenants!

Bova-Hiatt and Rubin acknowledged lots of problems at NYCHA developments — “we probably have two fires a day,” the CEO said — but did not admit being slow to fill apartments. “We have 5,000 vacant units, most of which are vacant because they have lead paint or are otherwise uninhabitable,” Rubin said.

Apparently no one is thinking about temporarily relocating tenants to the other 3,615 units being used as offices and meeting space.

To rehab a unit, NYCHA takes a long time and spends a lot of money — $375,000 on average — in part because it does a full abatement of asbestos, lead and mold, even if there is no immediate danger. The agency’s metrics make watchdogs like the Citizens Budget Commission cringe.

Overall, though, Bova-Hiatt and Rubin acquitted themselves well under questioning from the group’s president, Andrew Rein. Bova-Hiatt pointed out a slew of bad practices by previous NYCHA administrations that she has changed. Her account was credible and encouraging.

But here’s a sobering reminder: Bova-Hiatt’s predecessors all said the same thing. We keep hearing that NYCHA is turning the corner, yet it seems to end up back where it started.

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What we’re thinking about: The state legislature is scheduled to adjourn for the year on June 6. Will it vote to allow rent-stabilized landlords to increase rents more than $83 a month to pay for individual apartment improvements? Email me at

A thing we’ve learned: “Trickle-down doesn’t work in housing!” is a refrain often heard from opponents of market-rate development. But studies show it does, in fact, work. The latest comes from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis: “It doesn’t take decades for new apartments to put downward pressure on rents elsewhere in a metropolitan area,” the analysis concluded. “New units help keep current prices down for everyone by opening up new opportunities for low- and moderate-income renters over a few short years through a chain of residential moves.”


— Wind power generated 12 percent of New York’s electricity during the 1 p.m. hour on March 9, while solar energy produced 21 percent of system load during the 12 p.m. hour on March 12. Both were record highs, according to the New York Independent System Operator, which oversees the grid.

— A senior VP at New York City Health + Hospitals abused an agency credit card given to her early in the pandemic for emergency use, the Conflicts of Interest Board found. The exec, Danielle DiBari, charged 38 restaurant meals to the procurement card, spending an average of $191 per visit, and spent another $872 on the food delivery service Seamless. She even used the card to make a $2,500 donation to her alma mater, St. John’s University, to comply with a requirement of her appointment to an advisory board. DiBari also had Health + Hospitals purchase $98,000 in services and ventilators from her husband’s employer. She paid a $25,000 fine to resolve the violations.

— Hotels, office buildings, retail spaces and one-to-three family homes that collectively owe the city $102 million in delinquent water bills are being warned that their water may be shut off within 15 days unless they enter into a payment agreement, the Adams administration announced this month. Final notices are supposedly on their way to 4,200 chronically delinquent customers who have ignored the city’s outreach for a year, even skipping an amnesty program. The properties’ average balance is $42,500.

Daily Dirt Data

Residential: The priciest sale on Thursday was $21.7 million for a 4,400-square-foot condominium unit, 16C at 730 Fifth Avenue in Midtown.

Commercial: The most expensive commercial closing of the day was $40.5 million for a 60,000-square-foot industrial property at 38-11 10th Street in Long Island City.

New to the Market: The highest price for a residential property hitting the market was $28 million for a 5,400-square-foot condominium unit at 500 West 18th Street, East-PH25A, in Chelsea. Steve Gold and Deborah Kern of the Corcoran Group have the listing.