In “A crumbling example of socialism ,” Charles Lane tried to kill three birds with one stone: socialism, public housing and progressive New York City [Tuesday Opinion, July 10]. The pending collapse of public housing is national in scope. New York is not alone. Washington’s decades-long starvation funding accounts for a $50 billion capital backlog across the country.
Social housing is far more successful in Europe and Hong Kong because it accommodates a large resident constituency with a wide income range that helps cover costs. The progressive American vision of the 1930s was thwarted by influential real estate interests that demanded public housing be restricted to low incomes (those who couldn’t afford market rents) and required demolition of equal numbers of nearby housing (so as not to glut the market).
For six decades, the New York City Housing Authority was the largest program in the country and a model of public housing that worked. Clearly it now needs a major infusion of capital — possibly through the national infrastructure initiative — and vast reforms in its property-management operations. Recent lapses are inexcusable.
Despite the abysmal living conditions residents face, the waiting list is about 220,000 households. That is a fact of life in the city’s tight, high-cost housing market. Mr. Lane’s proposal to divide the $32 billion capital shortfall and instead give each NYCHA resident nearly $80,000 would mean a windfall for those residents, but it would not preserve this critical affordable housing resource for generations to come.
Victor Bach, New York
The writer is senior housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society of New York.
Charles Lane’s July 10 column was great — until the last paragraph, which, besides being unfair, deserved further exploration.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail system should be highlighted as a victim of value engineering (endemic in public works projects). With the exception of the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport station, Metro has no third track. A third track would have enabled maintenance to occur with minimal service disruption. Metro was not built for long-term maintenance needs.
Much of the New York subway, unlike our Metro, was built by competing private-sector corporations. The resulting duplication created redundancy. New York’s subway has third tracks for limited-stop trains. The system can maintain and rehabilitate track while minimizing pain — if the public sector appropriates the funds.
American capitalism’s shortcomings, which include underinvestment in public facilities and deprioritization of maintenance and repair, also result in the shortcomings of American socialism.
An alternative approach is public-private partnerships in which the public sector sets the basic program requirements (including functionality, maintenance, rehabilitation and eventual replacement) for private-sector response and long-term contracts.
Steve Yaffe, Arlington