More than 1,770 people living in New York City Housing Authority apartments are waiting for emergency transfers related to domestic violence, NYCHA officials said at a City Council hearing this week. 

That population represents three-fourths of all emergency transfer requests, officials said.

The rising number of people waiting for new units comes as the authority’s backlog of vacant apartments waiting for renovations in between residents has skyrocketed more than 600% over the past year, to nearly 3,600 last month.

One of the authority’s programs aimed at improving turnover times for vacant units was subject to a significant funding cut - $30.6 million out of $36 million in total cuts to NYCHA - by Mayor Eric Adams’ administration in November’s update to the city’s current four-year financial plan.

Councilwoman Alexa Avilés, who chairs the body’s committee on public housing, said in an interview that the hearing on Monday was the first time she understood the extent of the burden of the vacant apartment backlog being felt by people experiencing domestic violence. 

“There is certainly a direct correlation between how our city is defunding programs that help prepare units for readiness, and the impact of that,” Avilés said. “It’s a domestic violence issue, it's a gender justice issue, it’s family justice, it’s all these things wrapped up in one.”

Instances of domestic violence in New York City are highest for women of color, according to city reports. That group also disproportionately makes up NYCHA’s population, where about 70% of heads of households are Black or Hispanic women, according to resident data summaries.

Housing advocates have pressed the city on improving its apartment turnover rates in order to find permanent housing for vulnerable families, including those in city shelters. 

“If we care to build safe communities, we have to build those protective measures that keep families safe. Housing keeps families safe,” Avilés said in the interview. 

Monday’s hearing covered a range of financial threats to NYCHA, which has seen funding commitments from both the city and state decrease this year. At the same time, public housing advocates, as well as the authority itself, have been sounding the alarm over considerable rental arrears, a growing backlog of renovation projects and a looming budget deficit. 

Over the past two years, the authority has withdrawn $175 million for reserves, bringing its total backup funding to a level that covers just 25 days of operating expenses, officials said at the hearing. Without more funding, the officials said they would need to withdraw another $65 million from their reserves this year. 

They are also lacking nearly $470 million in past-due rent, and collecting each month on just under two-thirds of rent payments. 

The lack of funding, officials said, would require the authority to “significantly” cut back in 2024 on staff, and pause construction projects for community centers, playgrounds and improvement to development grounds.

In her executive budget proposal, Gov. Kathy Hochul did not offer any new sources of funding to NYCHA. A recently unveiled spending plan from the state Assembly would expand the state’s pandemic-era Emergency Rental Assistance Program to cover public housing, raising the possibility of returning $240 million in unpaid rent to NYCHA. (Unlike other states, New York did not to prioritize covering rental payments from public housing residents in its rent assistance fund.)

While the city has committed $700 million to NYCHA this year, Avilés called the amount “paltry.” 

“We are not hearing much of anything related to increasing funding for NYCHA,” Avilés said of the administration. “That funding is really critical, because it's operational funding.”

Barbara Brancaccio, NYCHA’s chief communications officer, pushed back in an emailed response to questions on Avilés’ assertion that drops in city funding for the authority’s operations have affected the Vacant Unit Readiness Program.

“There is no headcount reduction associated with this program and funding availability has not affected the rate at which apartments are turned over,” Brancaccio said. 

Brancaccio added that the authority is working “as quickly as possible to transfer eligible tenants to a new apartment,” but noted that the wait for new units is determined by unit availability and type. NYCHA has said that rising turnover times for vacant units are caused by habitability and safety requirements for apartment conditions imposed in recent years by both local laws and its 2019 agreement to settle a federal lawsuit.

“Emergency Transfers, including reasonable accommodations and victims of domestic violence, have a high priority or priority over other transfers, with limited exceptions,” Brancaccio said. 

In Monday’s hearing, NYCHA officials demurred when asked directly about the effect of the administration’s funding levels. 

When Avilés asked Eva Trimble, the authority’s chief operating officer, whether cuts to the Vacant Apartment Readiness program made it harder to get apartments ready, Trimble said that the authority works closely with the administration’s budget department on matching funding to their needs. 

“If you had to answer yes or no to that question?” Avilés said.

“I would stick with my last answer,” Trimble said.