NYCHA’s rent collection rate falls for third consecutive year

NYCHA's Riis Houses in Alphabet City (Photo: Google)

Declined to 91.4% even as administration tweaked policy to boost it

By Adam Pincus

The rent collection rate for the New York City Housing Authority fell for the third straight year, to 91.4 percent, even as the de Blasio administration has tinkered with strategies to boost the level at which tenants pay their rent on time.

The collection rate, which was steady at just under 95 percent from 2013 to 2016, has fallen annually since then, according to a review of the recently released 2019 Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report and prior management reports.

What sets this year’s decline from the prior two years is that the city no longer provided an explanation for the decline or a strategy to reverse it.

Source: PincusCo Media analysis of 2019 Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report, and earlier reports

Rent collection provides much needed money to a system starved for cash, even as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s twin goals of reducing homelessness and providing affordable housing can come into conflict if tenants simply can’t or refuse to pay rent.

While the amount of rent is not much compared with the average New York City bill — the average NYCHA family is paying $522 per month according to the agency’s 2018 fact sheet — it’s substantial for the average public housing family that has an annual income of $24,423. NYCHA manages about 176,000 apartment units in the city, housing nearly 400,000 people.

The city’s target rate is 97.5 percent, the report says. That’s approximately what a typical rent-regulated landlord would expect to achieve, said Lazer Sternhell, a multifamily broker with Cignature Realty. He estimated that rent collection rates would be about 96 percent to 97 percent.

“People [in rent-regulated apartments] want to pay their rent. They don’t want to be thrown out,” Sternhell said.

But the economy and other factors can cut into rent collections, said James Wacht, president of Lee & Associates NYC.

Just before rent collections began their slide, NYCHA reported in the 2016 MMR that it had launched new initiatives to lift collections, including reformatting rent statements, earlier mailings, automated rent payment reminders, as well as working with the city’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) to provide rental assistance to stave off evictions.

As collections declined, NYCHA said in the 2017 MMR that it, “remains focused on increasing its overall rent collection performance and providing support to residents who are in arrears through its third party partners and its collaboration with HRA.”

That was followed in 2018 with this: “The authority remains focused on increasing its overall rent collection performance… NYCHA is also working with a vendor on a pilot program to streamline the rent collection process.”

In the 2019 Preliminary MMR, there was no description about the additional decline or what the agency was doing to arrest it. It said simply “Goal 1a: Improve rent collection.” NYCHA did not respond to requests for comment.