With a Snowless January, New York Will Break a Record

Good morning. Today could be a record-breaking weather day. We’ll explain why. We’ll also look at the crisis facing the agency that runs public housing in New York City as rent payments lag.

Credit…David Dee Delgado for The New York Times

Have you noticed that it hasn’t snowed in New York City this winter? Not enough to measure, anyway.

So, unless a nor’easter that’s not on anyone’s radar screen blows in today, New York City will set a record for the latest-ever “first measurable snow,” a record set when Richard Nixon was president and John Lindsay was mayor. (That snow drought, in 1973 — in the last year of Lindsay’s second term in office — was a contrast to the last year of his first term, remembered for a February blizzard that paralyzed the city.)

The National Weather Service says it has been 327 days since the last measurable snow in Central Park. It defines measurable snow as an accumulation of at least a tenth of an inch. Less than that — snow that melts almost as soon as it swirls to the ground — is considered a trace.

“We don’t know the next time we’re actually going to see measurable snow” in New York City, said David Stark, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The 1973 snow drought ended with a storm that began before dawn on Jan. 28 and tapered off by midmorning. It left “motorists muttering, and skiing enthusiasts and schoolchildren beaming,” The New York Times reported. The smiles did not last long: When the sun came out in the afternoon, much of the 1.8 inches that had fallen in Central Park melted away.


Partly sunny, with a high in the upper 40s. At night, temperatures drop to the mid-30s, with a chance of showers before midnight.


In effect until Feb. 13 (Lincoln’s Birthday).

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‘A recipe for disaster’

Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Sixty-five percent. That’s the percentage of rent due in the 12 months leading up to December that the New York City Housing Authority actually collected.

It’s an eye-opening statistic because it was the lowest percentage in the agency’s history — and it meant that 35 percent did not, or could not, pay the rent.

The agency, which goes by the acronym NYCHA, collected 90 percent of rent or more in the years before the pandemic. The slide is so steep and so startling that the agency’s interim chief executive told my colleague Mihir Zaveri that “it’s really just a recipe for disaster.”

I asked Mihir to explain what such a big financial gap means for an agency that has short-term maintenance problems like out-of-order elevators and leaky roofs, along with longer-term projects to remediate lead and mold upgrade conditions in thousands of apartments.

How big is the shortfall, and what will it mean? Can NYCHA even cover its employees’ salaries, much less repairs on its buildings?

As of Nov. 30, the most recent tally, the total sum of unpaid rent was about $454 million, and the number has continued to grow. That is up from $125 million in 2019, according to NYCHA. More than 73,000 households — or about 46 percent of all households living in NYCHA’s developments — owe some rent.

NYCHA uses rent, in addition to federal subsidies, to pay for its day-to-day operations: employees’ salaries, upfront construction costs and more. When rent goes uncollected, the federal subsidies typically do not go up.

So far, NYCHA has been able to cover salaries and do most repairs, though many tenants will note that progress can be slow and construction work can be shoddy. But officials say their ability to keep doing repairs and improvement projects is seriously in danger.

The shortfalls have prompted NYCHA to pull from its reserves, which have dwindled to such a low level that they can’t cover even one month’s expenses. That means that if the agency had to deal with any sort of emergency, it could be hamstrung.

The problems at the housing authority could also put additional strain on the budget of the city, which subsidized the agency by more than $260 million in 2022, up from about $70 million in 2017, according to the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog.

Why did the slide in rent payments have such alarming consequences here, compared with other cities with public housing?

Proportionally, some other cities have had similar slides. But the problem is particularly urgent in New York City for a few reasons.

For one, NYCHA’s network of developments is by far the largest. Its population of about 340,000 is comparable to the size of Orlando or Pittsburgh. Chicago’s housing authority, in comparison, says it has about 27,500 residents. And with the cost of living increasing in New York City, there’s arguably no other place in the nation where a vast system of deeply affordable housing is as important.

Second, New York State’s pandemic rent relief program — a federal program run by states — created a unique challenge. State legislators gave public housing residents the lowest priority for funding, lower than low-income people living in private homes who might be more vulnerable to eviction. But because demand for rent relief was so overwhelming, NYCHA tenants received none of it, with more than $3 billion being channeled elsewhere. NYCHA tenants have submitted at least $130 million worth of applications.

Third, NYCHA is legally obligated to improve conditions in its developments as part of a 2019 agreement with the federal government to address lead paint, mold, faulty elevators, pests and more. A federal monitor appointed to oversee the improvements has found mixed progress so far. But the costs associated with living up to the NYCHA agreement have jumped from about $267 million in 2019 to $392 million in 2022, in part because of how the requirements are staggered. This is one of the reasons the city is spending more on NYCHA.

Are NYCHA’s costs out of control?

As I mentioned, a big reason for NYCHA’s financial predicament is that it must remedy many widespread problems identified by the 2019 agreement.

But there are other reasons. The buildings continue to age and deteriorate. Costs associated with labor — salaries, overtime, benefits and more — have been on the rise, according to Sean Campion, the director of housing and economic development studies at the Citizens Budget Commission. The group recently found that NYCHA’s operating costs per unit have grown about 50 percent since 2013, exceeding those of other types of affordable housing.

What is Mayor Eric Adams’s plan to put NYCHA buildings under private management? Where does that stand?

Adams has been a vocal proponent of the plan, but it began before he took office last year.

The basic idea, developed by the Obama administration, is for housing authorities to shift developments to private management, essentially allowing them to tap into a different type of federal subsidy. That has understandably drawn some backlash from residents who fear they will be dealing with private landlords who won’t prioritize tenants’ needs.

The program was announced in New York City in 2015. The city said earlier this month that through the end of last year, it had either completed or started renovations worth more than $7 billion on some 36,000 apartments under the plan.


Valuable tips

Dear Diary:

I was taking a walk in the Wall Street area a few years ago when I decided to pop into a deli.

I ordered a sandwich and began chatting with the proprietor as he made it. Our conversation eventually turned to the shop’s location.

I asked whether being in the Financial District ever caused him to play the stock market or led to his getting valuable tips from informed customers.

He paused his sandwich-making, put down his knife and looked at me with a perplexed expression.

“Every day, those brokers come in here,” he said. “They get their bagels, sandwiches, doughnuts, coffee, cigarettes … ”

He paused again and pointed toward the door of his shop.

“ … and every day, they’re out there on the sidewalk, pushing and shoving on a door that is clearly marked ‘pull.’”

— Steven Scharff

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at nytoday@nytimes.com.


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