April 11, 2019

Making Public Housing a Philanthropic Priority

Banner image: The Promise of Public Housing in New York

By Wendy Takahisa, Morgan Stanley

When I was born, my family lived in Bay View Houses, a public housing community in Canarsie operated by the New York City Housing Authority. Today, that means something fundamentally different from what it meant in the 1950s and 1960s. When I was six, we moved to an affordable Mitchell-Lama building. 

As a young child, I did not think my housing situation was different from anyone else’s—in fact, I did not think about it much at all. The stigma of public housing and “the projects” did not exist. Mitchell-Lama developments are City-sponsored housing for moderate-and middle-income housing. My parents stayed in the Mitchell-Lama housing until they passed away, while I moved on to a rent-stabilized apartment. Years later, I was able to purchase a condominium apartment, where I still live.

All these affordable housing options created opportunities for my family and me and allowed us to continue to afford housing as our personal circumstances improved. It also meant, as we were able to move, other families had an opportunity to find affordability. I fear that today, affordable housing options for New Yorkers are increasingly limited. If no one can afford to move to the next rung of housing, what does that mean for these families, but also, what does it mean for families hoping to gain their first foothold?

Decades of disinvestment and social change in New York have damaged public housing’s reputation as an essential provider of permanently affordable housing to people and families who need it. NYCHA buildings are an incredibly important asset to the city, but homes like the one where I was born are in desperate need of investment. 

I believe any New Yorker should be proud to hail from a NYCHA community. Philanthropic organizations dedicated to the future of New York should take the opportunity to partner with the public and nonprofit sectors to protect and restore public housing for the next generation. 

I work at Morgan Stanley, where we know capital investments are critical to the future of public housing. NYCHA communities are a vital resource for the people who help the city to run, like teachers, police officers and other city employees. 

Public housing should be funded alongside other public institutions like schools, libraries, or parks. That is why we have partnered with public and private organizations over many years to support the preservation of public housing communities and empower public housing residents. 

When we evaluate opportunities to support public housing, we look for innovative, resident-centered approaches that make a tangible impact. For example, in 2013, Morgan Stanley partnered with Mayor Bloomberg on Jobs-Plus, a program that worked onsite at NYCHA developments to help residents access employment and education opportunities. We provided the resources to add financial counseling to the program, which alongside a moratorium on rent increases gave residents the resources and agency to take full advantage of the program. 

Our work in public housing continues today. Through a grant to Enterprise, we are working to empower and educate residents and invest in the next generation of public housing leaders. For example, in the fall of 2017, Enterprise and the Red Hook Initiative Digital Stewards program collaborated with young adults living in Red Hook Houses to produce a video that would help residents whose homes are being preserved through the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program better understand the process and their rights. 

The video served a dual purpose by empowering residents and helping them gain marketable video production skills. The video continues to be utilized by stakeholders from community-based organizations engaging NYCHA residents in advance of RAD conversions to the Regional Administrator for the New York region of HUD.

We are also committed to investing in the future leadership of public housing authorities and the organizations that support this work. In concert with this mission, we worked with the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD) to place a Community Development Fellow at Riseboro Community Partnership. The Fellow engaged directly with NYCHA’s Hope Gardens Campus, working to ensure that NYCHA residents had access to information and technical support to help them understand how citywide policy changes would impact their communities.

Public housing is a vital asset and a platform to help individuals and families lead stable, successful lives. There are many new, exciting programs that are supporting and empowering public housing residents and their communities. 

To continue this work, New York companies and philanthropic organizations must recognize the value of public housing and the importance of investing in its future. As a former NYCHA resident and lifelong New Yorker, I am proud to be involved in Morgan Stanley’s efforts alongside organizations like Enterprise to create innovative programs with tangible benefits for those who call NYCHA home. 

Wendy Takahisa is an Executive Director in Morgan Stanley’s Community Development Finance group in New York and a member of Enterprise’s New York Advisory Board. 

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