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Bloomberg’s Public Housing Fiascos

Issue Bloomberg Files

Maria Muentes Feb 29

I was a housing advocate when Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002. At the time, the New York City Housing Authority was considered the best public housing in the United States, a public-housing success story. By the time Bloomberg was done with his three terms, it was an unrecognizable and unmanageable mess.

We our once diverse and eclectic city devolve into luxury skyscraper hell under 12 years of Michael Bloomberg.

The disrepair of NYCHA housing sits squarely on Bloomberg’s head. He centralized the system of repair so that developments no longer had their own maintenance staff, but were forced to rely on a centralized citywide system. Instead of calling the complex’s office, tenants had to dial a city call center. They were often given repair dates years into the future, with no remedy should workers simply not show up on that magic date.

One wonders if Bloomberg did this willfully, so that he could attempt, as he did during his last year in office, to have NYCHA sell off its lands to private developers.

His rezoning plans blighted the skyline with clumsy skyscrapers, grotesquely out of line with the small buildings surrounding them. These monstrosities often contained a tiny amount of “affordable housing,” usually only a handful of apartments: He built more “affordable” apartments for households making more than $100,000 than for those making less than $30,000. These crumbs were nothing compared to the secondary displacement that occurred by bringing in people whose incomes dwarfed that of longterm neighborhood residents.

Bloomberg changed the look and the feel of New York. Neighborhoods like Harlem that had high historical importance and deep roots for African Americans became unrecognizable, full of chain stores and restaurants clearly not meant for the residents. Entire buildings were evicted with no response from a mayoral administration that always sided with money. In historically Latino neighborhoods like the Lower East Side and East Harlem, bodegas were shuttered, replaced by luxury towers, chain stores and chain supermarkets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

His multilayered approach to displacement decimated communities of color in New York City. Stop-and-frisk made black and Latino residents second-class citizens who could be “thrown up against a wall,” as Bloomberg recommended. Apartments became unaffordable and shelters offered no assistance for people to access permanent affordable housing. Public housing became virtually unlivable. Luxury towers with rents starting at around $3,500 further signaled to entire communities that this city is not for them. Several volumes can be written about how Bloomberg harmed New York City public schools though that is another story. One aspect of it is how he closed large high schools and replaced them with several small themed high schools, thereby erasing part of New York City’s cultural history. Communities with deep roots saw their schools, their businesses and their imprint erased in favor of institutions that only serve the wealthy.

His appointments to the city Rent Guidelines Board guaranteed the highest politically acceptable rent increases possible for rent-stabilized tenants year after year. He fought against raising the minimum wage, ensuring that working-poor people could not keep up with escalating rents.

The number of people staying in city homeless shelters, mostly families with children, almost doubled under Bloomberg. Asked why the shelter population was so high, he quipped that people were having “a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before” in the shelter system and therefore were intentionally remaining homeless. 

His signature policy to aid homeless families was Advantage, which paid rent for homeless families,  if they moved out of a shelter into a privately-owned apartment — but only for two years, under the absurd notion that people with working-poor jobs would miraculously become able to afford New York rents within that time. Bloomberg was politically fortunate that the state pulled the funding just as people were beginning to realize what a failure it was.

Those of us who saw our once diverse and eclectic city devolve into luxury skyscraper hell under 12 years of Michael Bloomberg find ourselves in the unenviable position of trying to explain to people in the rest of the country just how bad he was once again.

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