NYCHA in duress: maintenance workers, staffers say they need more equipment and PPEs

Stephon Johnson | 4/9/2020, midnight
New York City Housing Authority leaders said they have close to 95,000 surgical masks on hand. Officials have said they’re ...
Manhattanville Houses/NYCHA Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay

New York City Housing Authority leaders said they have close to 95,000 surgical masks on hand. Officials have said they’re distributing 90,000 of those masks to all operations departments. But NYCHA residents and tenant leaders said they haven’t received what management said they’re giving out.

NYCHA workers and staff members around the city have complained about the lack of masks, gloves and other forms of personal protective equipment that should’ve been provided by the city.

One leader of a NYCHA tenant’s association believes she knows why public housing staffers haven’t gotten the supplies they need.

“Because they don’t give a damn about NYCHA tenants, that’s why,” said Frederick Douglass Houses Tenant Association leader Carmen Quinones. We have a skeleton office with a skeleton maintenance staff. Quinones also told the AmNews that the lack of resources has left them fending for themselves and working as a collective in place of help from the city.

When asked about the lack of available PPEs for NYCHA staffers, NYCHA Chair and CEO Greg Russ said, in a statement to the AmNews, that they sent out an advisory on how people can protect themselves.

“Effective April 2nd, DOHMH issued guidance recommending that all New Yorkers wear face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Russ. “NYCHA immediately informed residents and staff of this directive and continues to aggressively promote social distancing, hand hygiene and other protective health measures through all of our communications.”

Russ also told the AmNews that the supply of masks they do have tend to run out very quickly.

“Thanks to Mayor de Blasio NYCHA received 39,000 face masks last night, and this morning we received an additional 56,000 masks, with the help of Regional HUD Administrator Lynn Patton, which we are now distributing to all operations and development staff, as well as other departments with essential staff,” said Russ. “This is enough masks to last for approximately one week.”

Russ told the AmNews that they’re expecting another shipment of 450,000 masks early next week and are exploring providing plastic face shields as well and suggested that workers use dust masks, scarves, bandanas or other cloths to cover their mouths and noses. But that’s not good enough for Quinones who said that her staffers shouldn’t have to rely on themselves when they’re in public housing…right on down to food as sustenance.

“Our staff has nothing, only what I give them,” Quinones told the AmNews. “I’m giving out 400 meals to the elderly and we’ll be doing it again on Thursday. My volunteers came back crying because these (elderly) people are so scared to come outside that they’re literally starving in their homes.”

Twenty percent of all NYCHA residents are 62-years-old and above.

Quinones also told the AmNews that she’s contacted everyone from Russ to Patton to NYCHA Acting General Manager Vito Mustaciuolo waiting for answers.

“I called everyone I had on my phone. I contacted every office,” continued Quinones. “I called everyone from Lynne Patton on down. She said they have some stuff coming in and are waiting for it.” Frederick Douglass Houses aren’t the only NYCHA spots with issues.

In email exchanges obtained by the news website The City, Bronx public housing development managers complained about how COVID-19 has led to a smaller staff due to illnesses, absences and more with a lack of safety precautions in place for residents.

New York State Assembly Member Michael Blake told the AmNews that COVID-19 has revealed how broken and inequitable the healthcare system and the housing system are and how wide the income gap has become.

“There was a pandemic of poverty, inequity and challenges around supporting NYCHA long before coronavirus hit the Bronx and our city. Bronx residents living within and employees working at NYCHA developments, especially in the South Bronx, are legitimately very concerned about insufficient Personal Protective Equipment,” said Blake. “We absolutely need to make sure that we support our Healthcare Heroes at hospitals, we certainly must make sure that NYCHA team members and residents get Personal Protective Equipment to make sure that our residents can live, survive and thrive after this pandemic has left us.”

The AmNews attempted to contact several public housing tenant leaders but most didn’t respond. However, one did and said they couldn’t comment at the moment.

They were at a funeral.