Housing Abandonment and New York City’s Response


New York City is home to two of the largest public housing providers in the nation: the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and, lesser known but nearly as impressive in scope, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) housing program. HPD’s in rem-or City owned-program oversees 3,200 occupied and 1,500 vacant buildings that have been abandoned by their original owners, totalling over 11,000 units. Since 1978, the City has taken ownership of buildings where the private sector had been unable to provide decent, affordable housing for low- and moderate-income tenants. The City has managed this dilapidated housing stock and created programs to dispose of it to the private for-profit and non-profit sectors. Programs designed to return the housing to for-profit landlords, in particular, have been controversial because of their reliance upon the very sector that abandoned the housing in the first place. One such program, the Private Ownership and Management Program (POMP), did return buildings to the for-profit sec-tor but was terminated after numerous complaints. There were high eviction rates, rents unaffordable to low-income tenants, and patterns of poor management. New York City is initiating a new program, the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Program (NEP), to replace POMP, but it may have problems similar to those of its predecessor.

This article reviews and evaluates the debate surrounding the management and disposition of city-owned housing in New York City, paying particular attention to those programs that rely on for-profit landlords. The first section reviews the theory and history of housing abandonment by the private sector and the City’s responses to it. The second section documents the history of POMP and summarizes the studies that have been made of it by the City, the business-centered advocacy community, and the tenant-centered advocacy community. The third section documents the recent implementation of NEP and preliminary evaluations of it. The final section evaluates these two programs against criteria chosen by the City and analyzes the viability of relying on for-profit landlords as a solution to housing abandonment.

The primary purpose of this article is to compile the rich, but scattered, literature on in rem housing in New York City. Without a central repository for housing information, the City’s policy is difficult to study. Adding to this difficulty is the ephemeral nature of the information, consisting primarily of unofficial reports and unpublished papers. This article is intended to digest and preserve vital information on housing policy that otherwise might be lost in the loose sheets of press releases and position papers. Finally, I hope to make some modest suggestions about the course that the in rem debate should take.

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