New York, NY—President Joe Biden’s ambitious $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan earmarks $40 billion to repair and update the nation’s public housing complexes. But Congressman Richie Torres (D-NY-15) says that New York City’s Housing Authority alone needs $40 billion to address a backlog of repairs, so he’s calling for an investment of $70 billion nationwide. The Congressman was joined by council candidate Shaun Abreu (D), who announced today he’s supporting $40 billion in funding to bring public housing in New York City to a state of good repair.
Torres and Abreu held a press conference in front of the Grant Houses on East 123rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue. They were joined by two public housing tenants, Callie Moore and Maureen Johnson, and Councilman Mark Levine (D), whom Abreu is seeking to replace to represent Council District 7 as Levine is term-limited.
Levine noted, to illustrate the need to advocate for higher dollars for public housing repair, that the Grant Houses alone has an estimated $350 million worth of repairs to bring its systems up to code and to mitigate persistent defects such as mold, mildew, lead and leaks.
“We have a chance now to undo the federal neglect that has led to this underinvestment. Since the Reagan era, the federal government has reneged on its obligation to support the public housing system that it helped to create. We have a chance now thanks to Democratic control of the White House, both houses of Congress—we have a chance now in the infrastructure bill to right this wrong,” said Levine.
Being mindful of the possible reality that Democrats may lose control of either one or both houses in next year’s mid-term elections, Levine said now is the time to act.
“The current amount in the bill—$40 billion—for the entire country is equivalent to the need in New York City alone. I want to add my support to Congressman Torres, who is standing up and saying that this is unacceptable—we need to seize this moment. We may never have this again,” Levine said.
Torres said that preserving public housing is not simply a matter of public policy for him, but it’s deeply personal. He grew up in public housing in the Bronx, and he wouldn’t be in the United States Congress without the stability that public housing provided for him and his family.
He noted that there’s no greater solution to homelessness here in the city than public housing.
“There are 50,000 people in our shelter system, if public housing were to vanish tomorrow, there would be hundreds of thousands of people overflowing our municipal shelter system,” said Torres.
“Public housing prevents homelessness on a catastrophic scale. And even though public housing is too big to fail, for far too long it has been set up to fail. Public housing has been so savagely starved of funding, that it has a capital need of $40 billion and counting.”
He then reiterated his call for President Biden to inject at least $70 billion for public housing nationwide, with $40 billion going to New York.
Republicans, however, have been balking. They want to narrow the scope of the infrastructure bill to traditional infrastructure projects like roads, bridges and rail.
Indeed, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who is the top Republican on the Banking and Housing committee told Politico on Saturday, borrowing from Ronald Reagan, that “When it comes to housing in America, government is the problem, not the solution.”
We asked Torres during the Q&A with sentiments like that being expressed by Senate Republicans, can the Congressional Progress Caucus, of which he is a member, expect $70 billion.
Torres said he is cautiously optimistic because “we’re living through the makings of an FDR moment,” as Democrats are in control of the White House and Congress.
“I hope for the best, but we have to prepare for the worst. We have to operate as though we’re going to lose the majority in 2022, so it’s critical that we get as much for infrastructure in general and public housing in particular [because if we don’t] there’s no telling when we’re going to have an FDR moment again,” said Torres.
While Republicans want to narrow the scope of the infrastructure plan to exclude investments in public housing, Council candidate Shaun Abreu noted during the press conference that public housing is infrastructure.
“The ceilings, elevators and pipes in the building is infrastructure, and that’s why I’m proud to join Congressman Ritchie Torres and Council Member Mark Levine in calling for $70 billion in funding for public housing in the infrastructure plan, and I know we can get it done,” said Abreu.