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Margarita Lopez to Serve as Executive VP of NYCHA

Margarita Lopez of NYCHA
IMG: via NYC.gov Margarita Lopez of NYCHA

NYCHA named Margarita Lopez to a new role this month: Executive Vice President for Community Programs and Development. Ms. Lopez, who previously served as a NYCHA board member and environmental coordinator, will now report to General Manager Cecil House.

Though her title has changed, her role will remain much the same within the authority. She will be in charge of community outreach and development coordination. In a time when funding from Washington has been continually cut, Margarita Lopez’s work on NYCHA land development will be essential to the survival of the housing authority. Currently, Chairman John Rhea has proposed a series of private-public partnerships to lease land and raise money to keep NYCHA on its feet.

Ms. Lopez’s previous work within NYCHA saw her leading sustainability initiatives, helping to create Plan NYCHA, and assisting greatly with recovery efforts after Superstorm Sandy in late 2012. Projects like the New York City Planter’s Grove were made possible only through Ms. Lopez’s work.

According to Crain’s, one department source said, “Her experience makes her an ideal leader in these important times for NYCHA and public housing residents.” We suspect that, even without being appointed to this new role, Ms. Lopez would have continued to be a source for good within the NYCHA community, promoting change and improvement—it’s what she does best.

Margarita Lopez has a long history of being active within the community. She has been an activist for a number of causes, including women’s rights, LGBT equality, sustainability, ending domestic violence, and more.

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Sequester Still Punishes the Poor

poor child
IMG: via Shutterstock

The failure of Congress to pass a budget is being felt by the poorest Americans, as cuts to subsidized housing groups continue.  The Budget Control Act, commonly known as the sequester, has slashed a trillion dollars in federal funding to public programs across the board.  The New York City Housing Authority, (NYCHA), the nation’s largest public housing authority, announced that over 200 million dollars in funding have been lost since the sequester took effect on March 1st.  Overall, as many as 150,000 households that rely on vouchers to pay rent could be affected by the cuts.  Most housing authorities are dealing with the cuts through canceling new vouchers that were due to be issued this summer.  Other units may have to raise rent or default on mortgages.

John Rhea said in a press release that the mandatory cuts “severely hinder” the work of the housing authority.  The NYCHA chairman continued by assuring residents the commitment to maintain their developments and meet the goals to eliminate the backlog of repair requests this year.  Other ways the organization is dealing with budget cuts have included lay-offs, a hiring freeze and possible furloughs.  The plan to issue 5,000 new vouchers had to be canceled.

The voucher program for subsidized housing began with programs created by the Department of Housing and Urban Development during President Nixon’s term.  This is the first time the program has experienced any significant cuts.  The vouchers make it possible for low income households, especially seniors or those who are disabled, to be able to afford private rental housing.  If the vouchers are lost, it is possible many will lose their apartments and become homeless or institutionalized.  Some building owners rely on the vouchers to keep their building running, and some landlords also worry about defaulting on their loans.  This could put thousands of people on the streets and threaten the safety and health of not only New York, but cities across the country.

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NYCHA Uses Land Leases to Preserve Public Housing

The New York City Housing Authority, NYCHA, is the largest public housing authority in the country. NYCHA provides housing for over 600,000 residents in the city of 8 million, and every day more add their names to the waiting list. Housing prices in New York have skyrocketed, making it one of the most expensive places in the country to live. But despite a growing public need, the federal government has underfunded NYCHA for the past decade, amounting to a loss of $750 million for operations and $875 million for upkeep.

“Our buildings are 79 years old. They need care,” said Margarita Lopez, NYCHA Environmental Coordinator. “We need to figure out how to find the money to fix them. If we don’t fix them we will lose them.”

Though the current financial situation is still bleak, NYCHA has found a promising new way to raise extra revenue for maintaining and improving its buildings—most of which are more than 40 years old. The housing authority is proposing a plan that would lease 14 separate pieces of land owned by NYCHA to private developers.

These developers would then finance, construct and operate new residential buildings—with at least 20% of the apartments being designated as affordable public housing. That’s somewhere around 800 permanently low-income housing units, to which NYCHA residents would receive preference.

NYCHA estimates that through these leasing contracts, which would be 99-year ground leases, they could raise between $30 million and $50 million each year. Additionally, construction and permanent job opportunities would be generated with the developments, potentially helping to improve the lives of many NYCHA residents.

This seems like a great opportunity for New Yorkers, NYCHA, and NYCHA residents—especially considering the government doesn’t seem to be getting out of its financial rut anytime soon. The housing authority has vowed that no families would be displaced nor buildings destroyed, land would be leased and not sold (no privatization), job opportunities would open up, rent would not increase because of the new developments, NYCHA residents would have access to new security enhancements and features, and that money would go straight back into maintaining and preserving current developments.

“We are not going to lose in this equation in any way, shape or form,” said NYCHA’s Margarita Lopez.

“Not a single unit of public housing is going to disappear.”

Click here to read our full profile on Margarita Lopez, NYCHA’s Environmental Coordinator.