New York will shell out hundreds of millions to migrants who have descended on the city since crossing the US-Mexico border — and Daniel Barber, for one, is disgusted.
Barber, 53, who represents New York City Housing Authority’s 339,000 tenants, said, “The city is going to put forth a ton of money for these people who aren’t even citizens, but they forgot about the people who live in public housing right here.”
Last week, the Independent Budget Office projected the city will spend at least $596 million a year to provide shelter, education, health care and legal aid to more than 17,000 asylum seekers after Texas Governor Greg Abbott began busing them in from Texas this summer.
In fiscal 2021, NYCHA doled out $773,700 to “support various tenant-based initiatives,” according to the city. NYCHA is the largest public housing administration in North America, with $4.2 billion in expenditures this year, the City Council’s Finance Division Report states.
Barber said he resents the city for helping asylum seekers find jobs and signing them up for training when thousands of young people in NYCHA need better access to jobs and after-school programs to keep them out of gangs and off the streets.
“They are going to train a bunch of people coming into the country, but those already here who apply through hoops to get in, can’t get in,” said Barber, who represents every person living in the 335 housing developments in the five boroughs as their elected president.
He added that the recent increase in violence among young people “stems from the fact that there are no community programs for them” once they get out of school.
To get a job in construction, for example, applicants need at least 40 hours of training in Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But Barber said he has pushed for access to this and other kinds of trainings to no avail.
Barber, who has worked as the Citywide Council of Presidents for 20 years, said he regularly sends e-mails to NYCHA executives, including current interim CEO Lisa Bova-Hiatt, begging for help.
“I deal with the executive director, the CEO and all the higher ups to make them aware of the situation,” he said.
In October, the city built a special tent community on Randall’s Island to house 500 migrants, but the controversial facility, which cost $16 million, was shut down this month. Many of the migrants arriving now have been moved to a series of shelters and hotels where they are being helped with education and job training.
While the city has been quick to help these new arrivals, NYCHA residents suffer long delays for any improvements — including repairs to their homes, Barber said.
“I’ve seen better conditions in shanty towns in developing countries,” he said. “We have scaffolding that has been up for 15 to 20 years and nothing is being done. We have water that is seeping into people’s apartments, we have boarded up windows that never get fixed. We need help.”
He said local politicians only show concern when they are running for elections.
“Everyone ran their political campaigns off public housing and everyone stated how public housing was falling to pieces, but after the election, we have just become a mere thought, especially now with all the asylum seekers coming in,” said Barber, a lifelong resident of the Andrew Jackson Houses in the South Bronx.
A spokeswoman for NYCHA said that NYCHA needs tens of billions from city, state and federal governments in order to help its tenants and improve its facilities.
“Since 2019, NYCHA has fundamentally transformed its business model, compliance, operations and management infrastructure,” the spokeswoman said Tuesday. “However, the authority’s deteriorating buildings are the direct result of decades of investment by all levels of government and they require $40 billion in capital investment to effectively repair.”
But Barber blames bureaucracy. He said NYCHA’s New York State-mandated Project Labor Agreements with more than 30 unions leads to high labor costs and long delays for repairs.
“NYCHA is backlogged on ordering windows because they are only allowed to deal with one procurement company, and they are the worst,” he said. “Some people have been waiting the whole pandemic for kitchen cabinets they still haven’t received.”
Barber said he recently helped a family in the South Bronx who are living without heat ever since NYCHA-appointed repairmen damaged their radiator. When the heat came on last month, scalding water spurted from the radiator, and the family of two adults and four children is now sleeping on mattresses in the living room, he said.
Earlier this year, he helped residents railing against tainted water. And in 2018, he was part of a group that sued the city after the housing authority signed off on inspections of 55,000 units containing dangerous amounts of lead paint.
Barber, who works as a volunteer and lives on his disability payments, said he devotes most of his day to helping fellow NYCHA residents, and the rest of the time takes care of his disabled brother who lives with him and requires special care.
He said NYCHA’s strong services in the past helped him on his path as an advocate. He was enrolled in a Salvation Army after-school program through NYCHA from the age of six.
But, in 1993, under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, NYCHA cut many of their social services programs for young people, he said. “NYCHA had one of the best social services departments in the city, but everything was downsized.”
He said he supported businessman Ray McGuire for mayor in the Democratic primary, but is generally frustrated with the Democrats for not delivering on their promises to help impoverished New Yorkers.
“I’ve been yelling and screaming in the Bronx that we can’t continue to vote Democrat all along just because we have done it in the past. We can’t keep giving our votes away so easily. That’s like giving out our livelihood. Our ancestors fought hard for us to have the right to vote. Let’s not waste it.”