Publication Date

Fall 2020


The government-funded creation of permanent, affordable housing for millions of middle- and low-income people was one of the greatest social welfare projects of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1970s, however, many Public Housing Authorities (“PHA”) saw decades of funding cuts, neglect, and mismanagement, and many PHAs have been demolished or seriously neglected. New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”), with a population larger than many mid-size American cities, is the last remaining large-scale public housing program in the country and one of the last bastions of true affordability in one of the most unaffordable cities in the world. Now, NYCHA, in conjunction with Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), is participating in the Rental Assistance Demonstration (“RAD”) program, which brings in private capital and private property managers to oversee public housing. While RAD proponents have argued that the program does not amount to privatization, there are many troubling signs that the RAD program is indeed the first step towards privatizing public housing. This paper explores how NYCHA has reached this point by examining the history of the original promise of public housing; analyzing the intentional and unintentional revenue changes that forced a re-thinking of that promise and led to NYCHA buildings’ physical neglect; analyzing the regulatory changes RAD agreements will create for public housing residents; and finally, exploring some alternate models that NYCHA could adopt to preserve and strengthen public housing into the 21st century.


Thanks to Professors John Whitlow and Andrea McCardle, as well as fellow students Alex Berger and James Tenenbaum, for their careful readings and constructive critiques of drafts of this paper. And special thanks to Justice For All, as well as other tenant groups fighting for the rights of public housing residents throughout the city.

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