So much has been said and will be said about the legacy of Mayor Ed Koch. For those who care about housing and neighborhoods there is already a long list of accolades that his work has so rightly received.
So here is what we would like to add to the many voices remembering Mayor Koch.
Mayor Koch’s Ten Year Plan was not a housing plan: it was a sustained, unprecedented, and remarkable commitment to save and rebuild neighborhoods that most had given up on. It began with a brave and extraordinarily risky decision to take over much of the City’s tax foreclosed and abandoned housing in 1978. In a seminal moment in our history, the city’s housing department became the owner and manager of over 150,000 units of the most deteriorated housing in the city. This scale of devastation had never been seen in an American city, and there were no models to turn to for answers. And with the city’s finances still fragile, funds for the maintenance and repair of the housing stock were hard to come by.
An amazing flood of innovations would follow: the use of federal CDBG funds to pay for fuel and maintenance, reliance on Neighborhood Preservation Program offices around the city to defend the boarder communities from the abandonment and arson that were destroying neighborhoods, creation of property management site offices to bring services and help to those remaining in the worst housing, creative experimentation with alternative management ideas from fledgling not for profit management, tenant takeovers and cooperatives, and the involvement of pioneering property managers to manage and repair buildings.
It would be another eight years before the second seminal leap was taken: the use of municipal capital bonds to finance large scale reconstruction of the abandoned housing stock. That Ten Year Plan is what is still so well remembered today.
Having the courage to step in to save neighborhoods that were all but lost; demonstrating faith in the government to create and carry out programs never tried before; and, perhaps the most important, sharing a vision of NYC as a place that would endure, prosper, and overcome all odds to come back from the brink –all of this happened because Mayor Koch believed it should.