Following the devastating November fire at the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s (MPHA) Cedar High apartments, Minneapolis’s Star Tribune reported on the chronic federal underfunding of public housing that contributes to the massive, nationwide capital needs backlog at public housing communities and requires PHAs to make tough choices about building maintenance and repairs.
“Our priority is to make sure that life and safety are always taken care of,” said MPHA Interim Executive Director/CEO Tracey Scott in an October interview with the paper. “Quite simply that’s the hard choice you have to make because you would like to replace a kitchen cabinet but that has to come second to life and safety. We have to make choices.” MPHA estimates that its properties need an estimated $152 million in maintenance and renovations.
New York City Housing Authority Chair & CEO and CLPHA Board Member Greg Russ, MPHA’s former Executive Director/CEO, underscored the difficult choices housing authorities have to make when it comes to prioritizing maintenance and renovation projects: “We don’t have enough funding to keep basic systems in place nationally and have to pick and choose when we do get the capital money.” Russ added that inadequate federal funding is why MPHA and other agencies employ the RAD program to diversify and their funding sources so that they can afford the important and expensive rehabilitation of their properties.
CLPHA Executive Director Sunia Zaterman said that more “organized political will and bipartisan support” is needed in Congress in order to increase funding and fully address PHAs’ capital needs. “We are at the turning point in part because the affordable housing crisis is so heightened in our communities,” Zaterman said. “This is such an essential resource, the understanding that we have to invest is more pervasive and people are beginning to understand that ... but we haven’t had the reflection in our funding yet.”
Scott further stressed the effects that insufficient federal funding has on her agency’s ability to house and serve their low-income residents. “We’re a public agency and the mission is that we provide quality, well maintained homes for families to thrive and these are members of our community that need support and that helping hand,” she said, “We are providing a roof today, but if we don’t maintain it there would not be a roof tomorrow.”