The Speaker Race: Torres and NextGen

Ritchie Torres (William Alatriste for New York City Council via City Limits)

New York City Council member Ritchie Torres from the Bronx has impressive credentials as a progressive with a reputation that already extends well beyond the city, but his views on elements of the New York City Housing Authority’s Next Generation (NextGen) plan may deter some housing advocates from supporting his bid for City Council speaker, write Willa Rubin and Max Zahn in City Limits.

…on public housing, his bread-and-butter issue, Torres has departed from some progressive allies in supporting controversial elements of Next Generation NYCHA, the troubled agency’s plan for dealing with massive operating deficits and a huge capital backlog. Part of the plan involves partnering with landlords and leasing vacant property to raise revenue and reduce the agency’s $17 billion capital need.

Public housing residents and housing advocacy groups have criticized Next Generation NYCHA for giving away public land (although the land would be leased, not sold, to entities in which NYCHA maintains a role) and not creating enough deeply affordable housing in the process. But others blame the federal government for failing to provide sufficient funding and acknowledge NYCHA’s dire need to raise revenue.

The dispute sheds light on a tension at the heart of Torres’ political ambition: whether the councilmember’s combination of progressive advocacy and pragmatic deal making can deliver for the vulnerable he has vowed to protect.

The writers focus on two aspects of NextGen designed to generate some resources – putting existing NYCHA buildings under the control of public-private consortiums so rental subsidies can be paid by federal vouchers under “Section 8,” and leasing NYCHA land such as parking lots or playgrounds to developers provided they build housing made up either entirely of affordable apartments or a mix of 50 percent affordable and 50 percent market rate.

Many housing advocates have criticized NextGen, especially the leasing component of the plan, which they deride as a giveaway to developers. City Limits notes that Torres “has not moved in lock-step with NYCHA as it edged toward infill development, objecting to the process the authority used to get there.” For one thing, he says NYCHA “has a dubious track record of resident engagement.”

But, stresses Torres, “the status quo is essentially demolition by neglect.”

Go to City Limits for a thorough explanation of the plan and comments from NYCHA residents. And read why one expert says Torres is “between a rock and a hard place.”

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