LOWER MANHATTAN (PIX11) — With affordable housing in short supply and homelessness on the rise, New York City leaders on Tuesday questioned a steady, large increase in vacant public housing units.
Members of the City Council wondered what the city can do to fill those New York City Housing Authority apartments during a Public Housing Committee hearing on Tuesday. Eva Trimble, NYCHA’s chief operating officer, and Sylvia Aude, the senior vice president of tenancy administration at NYCHA, testified about vacancy numbers that councilmember and Committee Chair Alexa Avilés, said merited closer scrutiny.
According to NYCHA’s own statistics, it had 490 vacant apartments in December 2021. However, by December 2022, that number skyrocketed to 3,300 — a more than six-fold increase.
The time it’s taken for empty NYCHA apartments to be re-occupied has also increased significantly. In December 2021, it took about 120 days on average for a public housing apartment to be turned around from vacant to occupied. That time rose steadily over the year, and by December 2022, it took 260 days.
Current NYCHA residents who spoke with PIX11 News reacted strongly.
“I’m very surprised,” said Priscilla Trader near her home in the Farragut Houses, “when you have so many people in the shelters.”
Another resident, who didn’t give his name, said that he was upset to learn the numbers.
“I don’t think it’s right that they’re letting [space] go for no use,” he said.
Councilmembers at Tuesday’s hearing expressed similar frustrations.
Councilmember Lincoln Restler of Brooklyn said that the statistics showed that the city was falling short in a situation where it could improve its homelessness numbers.
During the hearing, he said that the numbers strongly suggested that the city was spending too much on keeping families in shelters, when it should be devoting those resources to housing those families.
In an interview outside of the hearing, Restler said that Mayor Eric Adams’ administration needs to “hire more people into city service so that we can get these apartments fixed up, and move people out of city shelters, so we can provide a decent place for people to live.”
For their part, Trimble and Aude, the NYCHA officials testifying, said that many of the vacant apartments need significant restoration work, including asbestos and lead removal. They also said that the requirements for lead removal in particular have gotten more strict and time consuming.
Judith Goldiner, the lead attorney at the Legal Aid Society division that handles cases involving homelessness and affordable housing, summarized another issue contributing to the high vacancy rate.
“NYCHA is completely out of money,” she said, in an interview.
Because of that, she said, the city needs to take the resources it has and apply them to making vacant apartments ready for move-in faster. She specifically mentioned that the city’s Housing, Preservation and Development agency can be put into service.
“What we’re suggesting is, let’s use HPD, who has folks who do this kind of emergency repair, and they can do it faster, let’s get this done faster,” Goldiner said. “Let’s figure out a way to bridge whatever the problem is so that people can move in more quickly.”
According to NYCHA statistics, in addition to the 3,600 vacant apartments, there are 3,700 additional apartments that haven’t had people move in, or are being renovated or aren’t for residential use.