New York City

I-Team: New NYCHA Chief Says He Won't Sell Public Housing Buildings, Will Seek Union Work Rule Changes

What to Know

  • New NYCHA chair Gregory Russ sat down with the I-Team for a wide-ranging, hour-long interview about the future of city public housing
  • Russ says fixing NYCHA will require expansion of public-private partnerships like the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program
  • He also says the behemoth effort will require more federal dollars -- and criticized the Trump and prior administrations for slashing budget

One month into his job, NYCHA Chair Gregory Russ said he will seek to change the rules that restrict how unionized workers at the beleaguered public housing agency operate. He stopped short of saying he’ll request contract “concessions.” 

“I want to ask if the trades are open to talking about the work rules, yes,” Russ said. “I don’t know if I would call them a concession. I’d like to think that we can sit down with them and talk about how we do work together.” 

In a wide-ranging, hour-long interview with the NBC New York I-Team, Russ said resurrecting NYCHA from its current turmoil will require expansion of public-private partnerships like the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, which taps private management companies to run the buildings and pocket the rent in exchange for millions of dollars in upfront infrastructure upgrades. 

“RAD brings private investment and private capital,” Russ said. “We need that.” 

But Russ warned that RAD and a collection of related programs will only preserve about 62,000 apartments. 

“We need to fill in the other 110,000,” Russ said. “We are going to have to propose some things that have not been tried in the public housing program before.” 

When asked if he would ever support the outright sale of a public housing building to a private company, the NYCHA chief said no. 

“No, because the buildings have a value,” Russ said. “Any deal we propose with any private entity, whether it’s with a developer, an investor, or even a bank -- that has to preserve the number of units we have right now. We can’t afford to lose any.” 

In his time leading the public housing agency in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Russ transferred all of the city’s public housing units to the RAD program. When he arrived to take the job in Minneapolis, a group of activists skeptical of RAD labeled Russ a “czar of privatization.”

In the I-Team interview, he bristled at that label. 

“I felt that was really propaganda, because we didn’t privatize anything in Cambridge,” Russ said. 

In Cambridge, the government public housing agency had the flexibility to retain management control of the RAD buildings. Russ said deals in New York City won’t have the same degree of flexibility but residents’ rights and caps on rent will still be protected. 

Aside from marshalling private investment to pay for the repair of crumbling buildings, Russ told the I-Team he will definitely need more federal dollars to succeed. He criticized the Trump administration and prior administrations for slashing public housing budgets. 

“There’s consistent underfunding of capital by a whole chain of administrations. I think it’s particularly egregious that in the president’s proposed budget they zeroed out the capital. Now, Congress was not going to accept that, but I think it does show there’s a lack of understanding,” Russ said. 

“It’s not helpful for folks to say we don’t need the capital at the federal level when we do,” he said. 

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