The New York City Housing Authority—which currently has a daunting waiting list of 270,000 families, and a depressing vacancy rate of one percent—also harbors hundreds of unnecessarily-vacant apartments across the five boroughs, according to an audit released yesterday by Comptroller Scott Stringer.
NYCHA apartments fall into one of two categories: An 'on-roll' apartment is either occupied, or in the midst of a standard turnover between tenants, while an 'off-roll' apartment is off the market for an 'extended period,' usually because it is undergoing significant repairs. As of September 2014, NYCHA had 1,366 off-roll, and 967 on-roll apartments.
Stringer's office found that major renovations take apartments off the market for an average of seven years, and at least 80 apartments have been vacant for more than 10 years. Auditors also documented 161 apartments that had been vacant for between 3 and 10 years.
According to the audit, NYCHA's official turnover goal for on-roll apartments is 40 days, tops. However, Stringer's office found that of 115 vacant on-roll apartments sampled, the average vacancy period was 116 days.
At the Ravenswood Houses in Astoria and Wagner Houses in East Harlem, auditors found that apartments that had been vacated for elevator repairs had off-roll status for an average of about nine months—much longer than the amount of time it took to actually repair those elevators. The audit attributes this to a lack of sufficient monitoring of repair status and empty apartments, pointing out that insufficient checkups have also lead, in a handful of instances, to squatting.
At the Harlem River Houses, one squatter had barricaded his apartment from the inside. At Ravenswood, two off-roll apartments had recently-expired food in the refrigerator. As repairs are delayed, conditions tend to worsen. Also at Ravenswood, two apartments with open windows were strewn with bird poop and feathers.
Not only are these apartments wasted space in a city that loses tens of thousands of affordable apartments each year to de-regulation, they represent about $8 million in lost rent, according to the audit's findings—a significant loss, especially for an organization with a an estimated $6 to $13 billion deficit.
NYCHA, which agreed with the audit's suggestions for instating a more efficient and rigorous monitoring system of empty apartments, chalked up the problem to their huge deficit. According to the NY Times, NYCHA cited a $16 billion shortfall in federal funding needed for repairs at 328 housing projects across the city, many of which were built before 1950.
They did, however, concede that the $300 million recently designated for roof repairs should keep more apartments in an adequate state of repair, for longer.
That's still a very thin silver lining for NYCHA tenants. In May, Mayor de Blasio presented a new plan for dealing with the authority's money problems: In addition to selling off unused NYCHA land to private developers, it calls for higher rents and parking fees for tenants.