A public-private model is the only hope for the city's decrepit public housing

New York City Housing Authority projects are based on a structurally flawed financial model that doesn’t work in practice. The latest reported crisis, nearly $32 billion in repair and capital costs, is just a symptom of the underlying problem. A new innovative approach is required to solve the problem.

© Flickr/Gov. Andrew Cuomo

The fundamental issue is that the rents that public housing tenants can afford are insufficient to cover operating costs, let alone capital expenses. NYCHA has been heavily reliant on federal and state programs for public subsidies to cover the deficiency. However, these programs either ended long ago or were curtailed. The problem has also been exacerbated by the age of the portfolio, with projects typically being more than 40 years old and some more than 70.

Instead of repairing and papering over the inherent problems of a failed model, all of the existing NYCHA projects should be wholly replaced, in phases, as a part of a total redevelopment of the sites. Instead of the Le Corbusier-inspired "towers in the park" design, which has proven so dysfunctional in the urban setting of New York City, the sites should be reintegrated into the surrounding communities. Warehousing of low-income households in ghetto-like projects—spatially, socially and economically set apart—is not an ideal to be preserved or replicated. The concept is to redevelop the properties entirely into brand new mixed-income, mixed-use communities.

Restoring the connection to the street grid and the life of the city is essential. So is recreating the ambiance of various housing types and other buildings, as well as ground-floor retail stores, restaurants, health care, entertainment and other uses that are typical in the city. This is a critical part of what makes New York such an amazing place in which to live and work.