In the Edward Corsi Houses, a public housing project for senior citizens in East Harlem, black mold has dotted Andres Figuereo’s bathroom ceiling for eight months. A hole near the base of his toilet is covered with strips of thick black tape to keep rats out. It took three months to get a maintenance crew to fix a broken window in his living room last year.
“Maybe they have not a lot of people working and they have a lot of other buildings,” said Mr. Figuereo, 87.
The New York City Housing Authority’s public housing system is the largest in the country, with more than 400,000 residents in 326 buildings. Its apartments fall into disrepair because of administrative mismanagement and insufficient funding. And if President Trump’s proposed cuts to the federal housing budget hold up, things could get much worse for the perennially cash-strapped housing authority.
Under the proposal, rents could rise and up to $340 million could be slashed from the authority’s budget. Residents already wait weeks or months for staffers to scrape mold from ceilings or lead paint off walls. Thousands of tenants call the city’s complaint hotline every year to report bedbug infestations, asbestos, heat and water problems, rodents, lead paint and lagging maintenance requests.
As the gap between rich and poor widens and neighborhoods like East Harlem gentrify, some fear that such drastic funding cuts would deal a staggering blow to the few remaining sources of affordable housing. A housing authority spokeswoman said it was too early to gauge how the proposed budget would affect department operations. But that does not put officials, residents and activists at ease.
“It’s a brutal and systematic dismantling of the NYCHA infrastructure,” said Debbie Quinones, an East Harlem activist and member of the local community board. “Ultimately, they want to do away with NYCHA and build luxury housing.”
City housing officials estimate that Mr. Trump’s proposal would remove up to $130 million per year from NYCHA’s daily operating budget. That covers essential services like heating and pays for maintenance workers who mop stairwells that are littered with cigarette butts and reek of urine.
Perhaps even more damaging would be the estimated $210 million cut to the long-term capital budget, which covers intensive projects like facade repairs, elevators and security camera installation. Clearing persistent mold has also bedeviled the housing authority, with leaky roofs damaged by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy spurring the growth of illness-inducing fungi.
Representative Adriano Espaillat, a Harlem Democrat whose congressional district includes one of the city’s most densely packed pockets of public housing, described the budget cuts as a potential crisis for residents.
“It will deteriorate their quality of life dramatically,” he said. “It will impact their health and well-being.”
Mr. Trump’s budget proposal, “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” slashes the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s funding by about 13 percent, dropping its yearly allotment to around $40 billion. Although the budget will likely be tweaked as it moves through the Republican-controlled Congress, the proposals indicate what the administration’s priorities are.
The HUD budget also lays out a plan to raise rents for public housing residents. Under current guidelines, most tenants pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward monthly rent, but that could rise to 35 percent of their pre-tax income, according to department documents. NYCHA tenants pay an average rent of $509 a month.
“This budget reflects this administration’s commitment to fiscal responsibility while continuing HUD’s core support of our most vulnerable households,” Ben Carson, the housing secretary, said in a statement.
City officials see it differently.
“The Trump administration’s devastating budget is an assault on public housing and affordable housing as we know it in this city,” Shola Olatoye, the housing authority’s chairwoman and C.E.O., said in a statement.
With or without budget cuts, public housing officials will likely have to continue a decade-long trend of staff layoffs and revenue-generating proposals to build market-rate homes on land owned by the housing authority, according to City Council reports.
Both strategies have sparked controversy among residents. Staff cuts could prolong the time it takes for overworked maintenance crews to fix problems. New market-rate developments on public housing land increase fears of rising rents and further loss of middle- and low-income housing. These fears are especially keen in East Harlem, which has seen a construction boom in luxury high-rises and renovated walk-ups.
Longtime residents worry that they will get lost in the rush to remake the neighborhood. At the Corsi Houses, where the lobby ceiling is swollen from the weight of leaking water, Garry Williams, 67, wondered if it was even possible for Mr. Trump, a wealthy real estate developer, to empathize with the poor and struggling.
“You got a guy in there that’s a billionaire on paper, understand, telling poor people, ‘Oh, y’all don’t need money,’” he said.