The impact of Hurricane Sandy on residents of the New York City Housing Authority, who were evacuated to safety or remained without heat or hot water in the fall of 2012, continues to demand attention. Recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer announced the largest Federal Emergency Management Agency Grant in history, $3 billion, to restore livable housing for thousands of families and fortify NYCHA against future disasters.
As president of the Teamsters Local 237, I commend the mayor and the senator for their hard-won effort to secure the grant. Local 237 has fought for increased city, state and federal funding over the past decade. This landmark investment will provide capital for desperately needed repairs at 33 developments. About 200 NYCHA buildings from Red Hook to Coney Island to the Lower East Side to the Rockaways were flooded by the storm, which caused severe damage to boilers and electrical and mechanical equipment and displaced many families. The money will also go toward fortifying buildings and preventing similar damage in the event of another devastating storm.
Repairs will include new construction of elevated boilers, installation of flood barrier systems and standby generators. This is a great relief to the 80,000 NYCHA residents, including many NYCHA employees who are residents and were affected by Sandy. Tenants at Red Hook Houses, for example, had no heat, hot water or gas for 22 days, as documented by Schumer.
The FEMA funds will also help complete desperately needed repairs across NYCHA properties and help provide safer working conditions for NYCHA employees. I represent the majority of NYCHA’s 9,000 workers, who do everything it takes—from repairing elevators, to fixing pipes and removing garbage—to ensure NYCHA buildings operate properly. These are the workers who went door-to-door to check on residents during the height of Hurricane Sandy, many of who volunteered to remain on the job, including elevator mechanics, to make sure residents were as safe as possible. Ensuring that these workers have safe working conditions must be a fundamental objective.
NYCHA’s 400,000 residents make up a large part of New York’s working class, and nearly one-third of NYCHA employees are also NYCHA residents. These families and workers are the backbone of the city. They keep it running and make it attractive to people from around the world. Although this funding is an immense help, NYCHA still has $18 billion in unmet capital needs. We must continue to push for greater investment in NYCHA to support our working and low-income families.
It should not take a natural disaster to force the government to fund NYCHA at levels that will enable it to provide safe and affordable public housing to New York’s working families. Almost 1 out of every 12 New Yorkers live in NYCHA housing. Government at all levels must work together to make sure that the city’s largest landlord and a vital source of affordable housing receives the funds it needs. A strong public housing stock is essential to the future of New York.