Washington Houses - NYCHA (254493)
Credit: Wikipedia/Public Domain/Jim.henderson

Tiesha Jones was devastated to learn in 2010 that her 4-year-old daughter had nine times the allowable level of lead in her blood. The lead came from living in her NYCHA apartment in Independent Houses in the Bronx.

However, things took a landmark turn last week after a jury ruled in their favor, awarding Jones and her now 12-year-old daughter a $57 million settlement. The jury found that NYCHA was responsible for the high lead levels. Jones’ daughter has brain damage, and it was proved to the jury that the lead was to blame.

“I felt betrayed,” Jones said at news conference this week. “They sent us letters every year stating that our homes were safe, that they were free of lead, and then to find out that my daughter has lead poisoning, it was betrayal.”

The settlement comes as fallout continues over NYCHA’s years of failure to thoroughly check apartments for lead. A 2017 Department of Investigations report revealed that over the past four years, NYCHA failed to conduct lead paint safety inspections on 55,000 apartments. The agency also lied to the federal government about conducting the inspections.

Adding salt to the wound, it was revealed that NYCHA chair Shola Olatoye lied during a December City Council hearing about lead paint inspections while under oath. Olatoye said workers who inspected 4,200 NYCHA apartments were certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but they weren’t.

“NYCHA is clearly disappointed with the jury’s verdict but looks forward to the final settlement of this matter upon terms agreed to by the plaintiffs,” the agency said in a statement responding to the recent payout.

Reports indicate that NYCHA hopes to negotiate a smaller amount as it continues to grapple with financial problems.

As NYCHA deals with a major lawsuit, it’s also dealing with the continued issue of a lack of heat. This week temperatures in the city dipped into the 20s and 10s, and residents are still in the cold. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $200 million investment to replace boilers and upgrade heating systems at 20 NYCHA developments experiencing chronic outages.

After weeks of complaints from residents about frigid temperatures in their apartments, many feel their voices are finally being heard.

“Like our investment to replace aging roofs, this commitment to new heating systems cuts right to the heart of the biggest problems NYCHA residents face, and will make a difference thousands of them will feel,” said de Blasio. “The record-setting cold this winter has hit these aging boilers and pipes hard. We’re coming to the table with real resources to attack these problems, and urge our federal and state partners to do the same.”

Funding will go toward replacing outdated boilers and modernizing heating system controls and hot water-making technology. The renovations will be finished by 2022 and will benefit approximately 45,000 residents.

Although the funding for NYCHA heat sounds like good news, critics say the fix doesn’t come soon enough. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. recently called for NYCHA to be put under a State of Emergency because of problems with heat, repairs and the lead paint settlement.

“We cannot afford to wait any longer to make critical, long overdue repairs,” Diaz said. “NYCHA must issue an emergency declaration and take the necessary steps to cut through the red tape of the procurement process and replace broken boilers faster. This heat crisis is a dire health emergency, and it requires an immediate, permanent solution.”

Others believe that the mayor isn’t completely helping a problem. De Blasio has vowed to help 20 of NYCHA’s 326 developments.

“New Yorkers cannot afford to wait until 2019 to see their heating systems repaired and modernized,” said aid, Afua Atta-Mensah, Esq., executive director, Community Voices Heard. “We need to cut through the red tape and speed up the repair process this year. NYCHA has said they need $2 billion to see every development receive necessary upgrades. We want to see a realistic timeline that helps to meet those immediate needs. Every New Yorker deserves to sleep in a warm home.”