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Examining the Causes

On January 31, 2023, the Committee on Public Housing, chaired by Council Member Alexa Avilés, holds an oversight hearing entitled “Oversight – Examining Causes of Vacancies In New York City Housing Authority Properties”.

The Committee will hear testimony from officials of the New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”) regarding the increase in vacancies across NYCHA properties, the underlying reasons for why more apartments are empty for longer and what NYCHA is currently doing to bring down vacancies.

The Committee has also invited NYCHA tenants, resident associations, and advocacy groups to testify on the impact of vacancies on the tenants of NYCHA living in buildings with vacant apartments, current tenants waiting for transfers, and finally on persons on the waitlist.

Background on NYCHA and Public Housing

Former New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia created NYCHA in 1934 to replace dilapidated tenements using funds from The New Deal, three years before the Housing Act of 1937 established public housing nationwide.

NYCHA originally served two purposes: (1) to provide low-cost housing for middle-class, working families temporarily unemployed because of the Great Depression and (2) to bolster the lagging economy by creating jobs for the building trades. Later, NYCHA’s purpose evolved into providing safe, decent housing for families with the lowest incomes.

Today, NYCHA has 335 developments, and 177,569 units home to 525,686 authorized residents, through the conventional public housing program, the Housing Choice Voucher program created by the United States Housing and Community Development Act of 1978 (“Section 8”), and through the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together Program (“PACT”), which is NYCHA’s implementation of the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (“RAD”) program.

Vacant Apartments

Dec 2021
Dec 2022

Turnaround Days

Dec 2021
120 Days
Dec 2022
260 Days

Average days to turnover vacant apartments

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Historical Vacancies in NYCHA

The need for housing in New York City is ever present. The intense and unending demand for a NYCHA apartment makes it imperative that NYCHA quickly and efficiently place prospective tenants into vacant apartments. This has the dual result of housing a family in need and returning the apartment to the rent rolls. As NYCHA deals with an ongoing funding crisis, the need to keep vacancies as low as possible is vital.

In the past NYCHA has had few vacancies as shown by an over 99% occupancy rate for most of the last two decades, but in recent years the rate has dipped below 99% and in 2022 was at 97.53%. While that percentage seems low, by NYCHA’s own accounting the number of actual vacant apartments went from less than 500 in November 2021 to more than 3,000 in December 2022. As more apartments are empty, fewer New Yorkers are being placed in NYCHA developments.

NYCHA Vacancies
December 2021 – December 2022

Recent Spike in Vacancies

In the last year, there has been a marked uptick in vacant apartments and accordingly an increase in the average turnaround days to re-occupy vacant apartments, according to NYCHA’s own data. NYCHA provides unoccupied apartments as broken down into three categories: vacant, move-in/selected and non-dwelling.

NYCHA’s data shows an overall growth in the total unoccupied apartments from 4,213 (December 2021) to 7,047 (December 2022) with the largest increase coming from the growth in vacant apartments from 490 to over 3,300.

In the past, even with a low vacancy rate, NYCHA sometimes struggled to bring vacant apartments back onto the rent rolls.

NYCHA Non-Occupied Apartments
December 2021 – December 2022

NYCHA Developments and Vacancies

Vacancy Trends

Turn Around Days to Re-Occupy Vacant NYCHA Apartments
December 2021 – December 2022

The average turnaround days to reoccupy vacant apartments has gone from 120 days to 260.

NYCHA Vacancy Rate by Borough
December 2021 – December 2022

These increases seem consistent across the boroughs with all five seeing large increases in vacant units.

NYCHA Applications

Vacancy trends track closely with the drop in occupancy rate and the drop in the total number of applicants placed in public housing in the last year.

NYCHA has described two contributing factors in their comments to the Mayor’s 2022 Management Report.

First, some vacant units are being used in relocation of residents due to lead abatement.

It is unclear from any NYCHA public documents or information how many vacant apartments are being used in this manner.

nycha building

RAD/PACT Program

The other factor NYCHA has cited is a policy of holding open apartments in developments set to be converted into the RAD/PACT program in anticipation of the modernization that will happen upon the conversion.

While this number could account for some of the ongoing vacancies, out of the more than 3,000 vacancies at the end of 2022, only 390 of them were in developments currently in the RAD/PACT pipeline.

The remaining 2600 vacancies were in non-RAD/PACT developments.

NYCHA Vacancy Rate by PACT Type
December 2021 – December 2022

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Created by the NYC Council Data Team.