Toomey takes aim at Schumer’s spending windfall for NYC public housing
Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, is raising alarm over what could be as much as an extra $40 billion in the reconciliation package going to New York City’s public housing authority, a funding windfall for Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) home state.
Toomey is calling the funding windfall for New York the “Schu-mark” and is likely to become a flashpoint in the debate over the Democrats’ $1.7 trillion to $2.2 trillion budget reconciliation bill, which doesn’t yet have enough votes to pass.
Legislation reported out by the House Financial Services Committee includes $80 billion for public housing, double the amount that President Biden requested for the issue.
There’s a clause in the legislation that would give Marcia Fudge, the secretary of the Housing and Urban Development, power to determine where the majority of the funding goes, largely setting aside a long-used formula for dispersing housing funds among public agencies. The House legislation gives her full waiver authority over $66.5 billion.
Schumer said last month that Biden’s $40 billion request for public housing would come nowhere close to addressing New York’s needs if that amount was parsed out to states around the country.
“It’s just not enough to address this crisis,” Schumer said in a Sept. 21 op-ed of Biden’s $40 billion request for public housing.
“I have proposed we at least double that amount to $80 billion in order to address the crisis in New York City and fully fix public housing around the country,” he wrote.
“I have pledged to use all of my power as majority leader, alongside my New York colleagues in the House of Representatives, to secure a funding package that can restore and transform NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority,]” he declared.
The eye-popping amount is already drawing fire from Republicans.
“Why does the bill have $80 billion? It just so happens the New York City Housing Authority wanted $40 billion all for itself but our Democratic colleagues knew they couldn’t very well pass a bill that sent 100 percent of that money to New York City — it might be a bit of a problem for the 48 Democrat senators who don’t represent New York City,” Toomey said at a Banking Committee hearing Thursday at which he displayed an animated placard of a shoe overflowing with dollar bills.
“Certainly looks a lot like Sen. Schumer securing a $40 billion earmark. Or should we call it the Schu-mark?” Toomey asked. “It looks like half of all the bill’s public housing dollars will go to a housing authority plagued by scandals, bribery and chronic mismanagement.”
The dramatic expansion of funding would provide a huge boost to New York City’s crumbling housing infrastructure, which has been a festering political issue in the Big Apple for years.
A March 2018 report prepared for the New York City Housing Authority by STV and AECON, two engineering and design firms, projected the cost of repair and replacement needs would total $31.8 billion over five years and $45.2 billion over 20 years — as calculated based on the value of the dollar 2017.
New York City public housing buildings have an average age of roughly 60 years and 70 percent of its housing stock was built before 1970.
But Toomey is worried about the prospect of sending tens of billions of dollars to a city housing authority that has been plagued by controversies
A 2017 report by New York City’s Department of Investigation found what it called “a culture of misconduct, employee mistreatment and favoritism” at NYCHA, including employees drinking while on the job and having sexual relationship with subordinates.
And in a 2018 lawsuit against the housing authority, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman charged that city officials had made extensive efforts to cover up the squalid living conditions of low-income tenants, who were plagued by lead paint, vermin, broken elevators and lack of heat.
The deteriorating conditions in New York’s public housing buildings has been a hot political topic among low-income voters in the state for years.
The issue received more attention earlier this year when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has not ruled out a primary challenge against Schumer in 2022, laid out her vision for fixing public housing.
She is calling for a repeal of the Faircloth Amendment, which prohibits a net increase in public housing units. The amendment was adding to the Housing Act in the late nineties when there was less political support for federally-subsidized affordable housing.
Ocasio-Cortez and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in April introduced a “Green New Deal for Public Housing” that would provide $172 billion to retrofit existing public housing.
When House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) announced the $80 billion for the public housing capital backlog in her bill, she said it was necessary to address “dire health and safety issues” and pledged “this funding will ensure such housing remains within public ownership and control in perpetuity.”
New York lawmakers think the nation’s greatest public housing needs are in New York City, and want to make sure the lion’s share of new federal funding goes to help their long-suffering constituents.
Last week, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) said the extra $40 billion added on to Biden’s $40 billion public housing request is intended to eliminate New York City’s huge public housing maintenance and repair backlog.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring fairness and to be able to invest and make transformational changes for people who live in public housing,” she told NY1.com, a local media outlet.
Velazquez and other New York lawmakers are looking to protect the extra $40 billion for public housing needs from being siphoned off by other states, according to NY1.com.
“In the wealthiest nation on earth, no one should be living in conditions like this,” she said at a recent interview, referring to the notoriously poor conditions of some New York housing projects.
Schumer called on Biden in April to double his request for public housing, arguing that distributing $40 billion across the entire nation simply wouldn’t provide enough money for New York.
“For far too long, our public housing infrastructure needs have been left unaddressed, left to get worse, and have brought serious harm to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” Schumer said at the time. “Public housing residents, and NYCHA residents in particular, are in need for some real help, and this, right now, is a now-or-never moment.”