City leaders and lawmakers say thousands of public housing residents in New York City who have been forced to live with leaks, mold, broken elevators, and busted boilers may finally see better living conditions in what could amount to a fundamental shift in how public housing is funded in the city.

The state Legislature passed a bill on Thursday that would allow the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, to create a public-benefit corporation that could raise billions to renovate up to 25,000 apartments.

The newly created entity, the Public Housing Preservation Trust, would enable the housing authority to issue bonds and borrow money from private investors to pay for repairs. The model has been in the offing for NYCHA since 2020 and is designed to move the authority away from direct federal subsidies — which Congress has increasingly targeted with budget cuts in recent decades —  and more towards a voucher-based system.

The legislation, backed by Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul, was adopted in the Senate by a vote of 38 to 25 on the final day of the legislative session. The Assembly approved it on Wednesday in a 132-18 vote. The bill is now heading to Hochul’s desk, and the governor is expected to sign it.

“For decades, NYCHA residents have been promised repair after repair that never materialized, but, with the Public Housing Preservation Trust, we will finally deliver on those promises and offer NYCHA residents the dignity and safe, high-quality, affordable homes they deserve,” Adams said in a statement.

With about 176,000 apartments under its control, NYCHA is the largest source of affordable housing in the country for low-income and moderate-income New Yorkers. For decades, its more than 400,000 residents have lived in aging buildings that require an estimated $40 billion in repairs.

Under the proposal, up to 25,000 apartments could be leased to the newly established trust, which would convert the units from public housing under Section 9 of the U.S. Housing Act, to the system of rental vouchers known as Section 8, allowing NYCHA to access additional federal funding. The housing authority would continue to own and operate the buildings and the land.

In 2019, the average unit in the public housing program received $1,250 a month in federal funding, while the average Section 8 Tenant Protection Voucher received $1,900 a month, an extra $650 per unit per month, according to Greg Russ, NYCHA’s chairperson and chief executive officer. Russ said the trust could then leverage the extra funding as a way to borrow additional money from private investors to pay for maintenance and repairs.

Residents have the option to join the program. Under the legislation, NYCHA can go back to state lawmakers each year and ask the Legislature to authorize additional apartments to be transferred to the trust.

The newly formed public-benefit corporation would be run by a nine-member board, which would include four NYCHA residents, two NYCHA executives and a deputy mayor. The remaining two positions would be appointed by the housing authority’s chief executive and by the mayor.

Many tenants and some legislators opposed the plan, including the bill’s original sponsor, Sen. Brian Kavanagh, who ultimately voted against it on Thursday. Sen. Julia Salazar of Brooklyn reintroduced the bill last week after Kavanagh withdrew his support. Kavanagh did not respond to a request for comment on why he dropped his support. Salazar also did not respond to questions on why she stepped in at the last minute as the bill’s sponsor.

The Citywide Council of Presidents of NYCHA Tenant Associations, the leadership group that represents all public housing residents, also opposed the bill. Only one of its 10 members supported it.

Tenants and advocacy groups say they’re concerned that the plan could threaten or weaken many of the rock-solid protections NYCHA residents currently enjoy, such as the right to an administrative hearing before the housing authority can move to evict them, and the ability to pass an apartment on to the next generation. They also fear that giving the trust the power to borrow money exposes NYCHA to potential financial troubles in the future if the trust can’t pay back its loans.

Marquis Jenkins, co-founder of Residents to Preserve Public Housing, which formed to oppose the legislation when it was first introduced in 2020, said he’s disappointed that legislators voted in favor of the program.

“We will continue to fight,” Jenkins said. “The next battle is with [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] and Congress.”

Nicholas Dagen Bloom, a professor of urban policy and planning at Hunter College and author of “Public Housing That Worked: New York in the Twentieth Century,” said that while direct federal funding for public housing under Section 9 may have worked in the past, NYCHA now has little choice but to pursue funding where it is available.

“If you don't follow the federal money, then you cannot succeed because that's who basically pays for it,” said Bloom.

He said the federal government has wanted to get out of the public housing business since the 1970s, and has been largely successful by cutting funding to the Section 9 program.

While he admits that moving to the trust model has its risks, Bloom said the bigger risk is to do nothing, given the dilapidated state of many NYCHA buildings.

“It's going to make a massive difference, enormous difference,” Bloom said.