Residents of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings in Brooklyn are fuming over what they claim are hazardous living conditions and years of unattended repairs. The issue has now spawned a lawsuit to get the repairs done.
Tenants and advocates from Families United for Racial & Economic Equality (FUREE) gathered last week in front of Brooklyn Housing Court, claiming that NYCHA is forcing residents to live in dangerous and unhealthy conditions and is misusing capital repair funds for other programs.
FUREE also wants NYCHA to enhance its centralized calling center (CCC) to prioritize backlogged repair tickets and make repairs in a timely manner and to use Section 3 funding to train and hire unemployed residents to make repairs. Following the event, attorneys from South Brooklyn Legal Services filed a group lawsuit against NYCHA to force repairs for tenants of three Brooklyn NYCHA properties.
“NYCHA needs to expedite repairs, especially the ones that are causing dangerous health conditions,” said FUREE member John Saulters. “But they keep telling us that they don’t have enough money, though they have enough to pay millions to the police department for services we already pay for through our taxes. Why not take that money, train and hire unemployed residents and make it so this system works for everyone?”
Saulters is referring to the Section 3 program, a federal mandate requiring a portion of new jobs using federal capital funds go to low-income community residents working for NYCHA contractors. NYCHA provides funds to the NYPD from its capital expense budget.
Public housing residents claim that thousands of repairs for NYCHA’s units are backlogged citywide. Families, youth and elders are dealing with conditions in need of repairs including serious leaks, mold, disintegrating plaster on walls and ceilings, electrical outlets that spark and sizzle and unsecured front doors.
Sharon Davis-Night is a tenant of the David G. Farragut Houses and a member of FUREE. In May 2010, she contacted the CCC and asked NYCHA to repair the conditions that were causing mold and mildew to form on her walls. At the time, she was given a repair ticket and was told that a contractor would contact her within 30 days. Almost two years have passed and she claims no one has contacted her.
“I’ve called several times to ask about the repairs,” said Davis-Night. “The last time, I was told that I could not request a new ticket because the ticket from May 2010 is still open. Meanwhile, I am still living with mold and mildew. I now have a respiratory infection and I am worried that the conditions are beginning to affect my 21-year-old son.”
Cynthia Morgan, another tenant at the Farragut Houses, had a fire in her apartment in December 2010. While there was limited damage from the fire, the FDNY had to break two windows in her apartment, break a door and remove her kitchen sink and cabinets to put it out. In January, Morgan called the CCC and asked for repairs to be made in her apartment.
“NYCHA told me that someone would come to my apartment to complete the repairs on Dec. 26, 2010, and to this day they still haven’t done anything,” she said. “I have lived with boarded-up windows for more than a year. It’s unsafe and unhealthy. People shouldn’t have to live like this. NYCHA needs to fix the system so we can live in our homes with dignity.”
In a statement to the AmNews, NYCHA declined to comment, citing that they do not discuss pending litigation, but said that they are working to fix the problems.
“NYCHA understands and respects our residents’ frustration over the current backlog of repair and maintenance work. We have staff on site at each of these developments assessing the units in need of repairs, and we are working to resolve outstanding issues as soon as possible,” the department said.
Blaming inadequate funding, NYCHA added that it works “unceasingly” to address all requests for repair and maintenance at its 2,604 buildings. It said the reality is that buildings, which are 40 to 70 years old, are aging structures that require a great deal of repair.
To tackle the backlog, NYCHA launched a task force in June 2011, pulling together a team of skilled workers to help reduce significant repair backlogs and reduce wait times. NYCHA claims that in six months, the repair teams, which include carpenters, plumbers, plasterers and maintenance workers, successfully completed nearly 40,000 repair work orders in almost 10,000 apartments citywide.