When the federal sequestration kicked in earlier this year, it wasn't clear what it would mean for New York City. And when the sky didn't immediately fall as the automatic cuts took effect, some argued that the talk of doom and gloom was overblown. But don't try making that argument to the 400,000 residents of the city's public housing system.
The Housing Authority yesterday announced massive cuts to the agency in the wake of a $205 million budget shortfall because of the sequester. This means layoffs and possible furloughs at a city agency that is already struggling to eliminate a massive backlog of repairs in many of its 2,600 buildings. Federal Section Eight vouchers – which the authority gives to roughly another 100,000 New Yorkers -- will be cut, making it harder for poor residents to pay their landlords. Also in jeopardy are senior and community centers in Housing Authority buildings.
The City Council today is holding an emergency budget hearing about the cuts and mayoral candidate Bill Thompson is already ripping the agency for its plans. But what is the city really supposed to do when Washington suddenly comes up short and a doomsday budget machine is activated? Almost 80 percent of the agency's budget comes from the federal government – which has already slashed $4 billion from the agency over the last 12 years. The sequester has become a giant punt where elected federal officials are avoiding making tough decisions and budgeting is being done with a blindfold and an axe.
Despite its many problems, the city's Housing Authority overall is viewed as a success story – especially compared to other cities across the country. But apparently the new national motto should be: if it ain't fixed, break it. Never try making policy decisions with a cleaver.