The untold story; Section 202 and Affordable Senior Housing in NYC

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There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that when the Section 202 program was originally created in 1959, that the intentions of this program were absolutely marvelous. Finally a program that was created in order to provide the absolutely essential housing for seniors in the middle of NYC, and not just housing but in fact affordable housing.

Yes, the idea behind Section 202 was great but is it really all that great, or is there more to it? Has it become one of those projects that in fact do a bunch of harm to the citizens of New York? We will take a little bit of a closer look at it. 

When you look at the consequences of it, what you see is that there were hundreds of buildings that were allowed to be built as a consequence of this program, while providing people that had the least, with a possible place to live. In fact, these low-income housing options provided a great alternative to the other option, which could otherwise be that a vulnerable group of people would find it very hard to have anywhere to live. 

What would happen later is decades would pass, the year 1977 would pass, and more years would continue to pass. All this time would pass and building standards would end up vastly changing. It was a great funding initiative at the time. The funding of the project seemed noble, but many people forgot that these homes had some flaws. Flaws that could end up significantly damaging the health of the people that live there, especially when the due maintenance isn’t done. The issue with the building of these homes is that many people have not realized that lead paint is a real issue. An issue that can easily be dealt with, when the owner of the building chooses to spend the money that it takes in order to bring buildings up to the standard that they need to be in, but many years have passed since the issuance of Section 202. 

This program was in fact approved years and years before the EPA was to stop the dangerous paint from being included in homes, and as a consequence, there are many of the buildings built under this program that will end up hurting the health of its residents. Abating the dangerous paint is by no means cheap. It can easily cost in excess of $10,000 per project to have done, and when you start doing the math, that means that it quickly ads up. And while the paint may have previously served its purpose well, providing the necessary aesthetics to the homes, it is now a luring danger that will impact its residents’ health. While mold and heat can be dealt with as it becomes apparent, no one had imagined back in 1959 that they would be setting up buildings that would be full of paint that would at a later stage end up being extremely expensive to have fixed, or that this paint would start presenting real problems as it starts to deteriorate. 

Section 202 is a great program in its intentions, but it is also a program that was set up 60 years ago without the knowledge that we have today, and necessarily the funding to be able to remedy the situation. New roofs and new brickwork is often prioritized over other capital expenditures, as they seem more apparent when they fail. It is significantly harder to justify that thousands of dollars should be spent just on making sure that peeling paint is being addressed. But peeling paint can really be an issue when it isn’t addressed, especially in buildings that were built before the country wide ban on residential lead paint was instituted. And while you may argue that the need to address the situation might be less so given that it poses a significantly bigger health hazard to babies, there’s no denying that families will be visiting their older family members. There’s no denying that paint starts failing as it ages, and there’s no denying that failing lead paint will let out a bunch of the particles that will then be ingested by whoever is living in the building, and whoever is visiting the people living in the building. 

When you visit the EPA’s website, you will see that they too talk about the issue of millions of homes across the United States having the dangerous type of paint in them, and that there are too many families that have young kids that have lead levels that are significantly higher than the limits that have been set. There is also no denying that exposure to the dangerous metal does not have severe effects on whoever is exposed to it, especially affecting the lives of our youngest members of society.

While it may still be too early to say that there are systematic issues with these sorts of capital  repairs that are needed, there is nothing suggesting that there is a budget that will be ready to tackle the issues once and for all, as there will come a time and a day when these homes will be dangerous to live in. Paint deteriorates at a different pace depending on the sort of elements that it is exposed to. While it may not be obvious yet in a lot of the buildings, decades worth of exposure to the lives of the people living inside the buildings will inherently cause the paint to deteriorate eventually, and when the time comes and the paint is no longer in good condition, there is no suggestion that there will be the necessary budget to properly deal with the issues. 

The issues of public housing are apparent and are not limited to Section 202. The buildings may currently be in good shape, but the buildings that were approved to be built under Section 202 will deteriorate, and lead paint will not be the only issue at that point. It’s not just the public housing under this program that will be an issue. There are lots of other issues with public housing, and all you have to do is search for “health dangers of Melrose housing” to start seeing how programs that were intended to be great, turned out to be major health hazards.


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