Exclusive: NYCHA Chair's Blueprint for Change

FOX 5 NY has been telling you about many problems facing NYCHA residents like no heat, mold, broken elevators, lead paint and rats. Now, in an exclusive sit down interview with NYCHA Chair and CEO Gregory Russ, he explains his Blueprint for Change.

"I try to imagine myself in their place, and I can't, so we have to fix it," Russ said.

Russ told FOX 5 NY that the challenges were much worse than he realized when he took the job in 2019 and he quickly realized there were no quick fixes.

"I can go in the unit and I can say, I'm replacing your pipe in the kitchen but that could open up a leak below or above, because the risers are bad," Russ explained.

Decades of neglect, mismanagement, and no improvements have brought NYCHA to a crisis. Russ says $40 billion is now needed to overhaul 110,000 apartments and their operating systems. That's more than 10 times its annual budget of $3.84 billion.

"The lack of a capital reinvestment strategy and our families getting poorer and more vulnerable, I think those two things have driven a lot of the issues that we face," said Russ.

Russ says NYCHA's nearly $4 billion yearly budget goes to personnel, utilities, repairs, and compliance with the federal monitor's mandates. All solutions lead to the same conclusion: more money.

Russ is proposing a Blueprint for Change with new construction from the inside out.

"We have to leave the public housing program and go to the housing voucher program and most residents have correctly pointed out that vouchers aren't like public housing, the rules are different," Russ said.

Get breaking news alerts in the FOX5NY News app. Download for FREE!

Some NYCHA resident leaders are skeptical about the voucher plan, also known as Section 8,  fearing they will be displaced. Russ's plan would rely on a hybrid all public model using the NYCHA Preservation Trust. It would qualify for more federal funding, preserve tenants' rights, and get them brand new apartments at the same rent, paid for monthly with a voucher. In addition, it would generate money for major improvements and become sustainable long-term.

"This is the big fear. We're not designing a plan to move people out. We're designing a plan to make your apartment better so you can move back in," said Russ.

The NYCHA Preservation Trust will go before the State Assembly for a vote this year. Russ says they are complying with the federal monitor on lead abatement and other issues and that some improvements in repair response have been made, and predicts NYCHA residents should see some more significant improvements by the last quarter of this year.

"We've had so many plans, and so many initiatives. We have to deliver one that's going to be permanent," Russ said.

Russ told FOX 5 NY that doing things the same way would mean problems for residents only get worse and that without an entirely new system in place, the very future of public housing in New York would be in jeopardy.