Goose down jackets, doubled-up scarves, trousers-on-top-of-trousers, long-johns, thermals and gloves are what some NYCHA residents are wearing in their freezing apartments with iced-up windows, stone-cold radiators and visible breath in the living rooms.
“Our seniors are dying!” declared Carmen Quinones NYCHA resident and president of Douglas Houses. “How can you sleep?”
It was as if a ticking time bomb over the recent mishaps in NYCHA exploded this week, when lawmakers and the public met at the City Council Joint Oversight & Investigations and Public Housing Committee hearing. Although elected officials were able to express their frustration to NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye during the hearing, it was the residents, who were allowed to have their say first, who appeared to make the biggest impact at the hearing. Quinones attended the hearing with Community Voices Heard. The morning of the hearing, Quinones, who suffers from lupus, said she had no water in her apartment. Referred to what was happening in NYCHA has a “health crisis,” Quinones wants a resident-led oversight council. During her passionate testimony, she said NYCHA is “incapable” of protecting residents well-being. As she emphasized the detrimental effects stress has on lupus, Quinones moved the packed City Hall Chamber.
“The NYCHA chair should not only have to report to the City Council, but should be mandated to report to us, the residents, at least quarterly,” she said. “This would be a council led by residents that would include leaders from faith, labor and community groups with an investment in public housing.” NYCHA has its plate full as its saga continues as what many are calling the city’s worst landlord.
As winter continues and the ongoing flu epidemic widens, NYCHA residents say conditions remain the same for the 80 percent of NYCHA residents who don’t have heat and hot water in their apartments, according to reports
Even with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pledge last week to invest $200 million to replace boilers and upgrade heating systems at 20 NYCHA developments by 2022, residents and the city feel it’s just not enough.
The AmNews previously reported that Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is demanding that NYCHA issue an immediate emergency declaration to speed the procurement process for heating and repairs.
“We need to have NYCHA as our top priority,” he told the AmNews. “All hands should be on deck. We have buildings crumbling and boilers that haven’t been replaced in 50 years. If residents pay rent, they deserve heat.”
Last week, more than 50 elected officials from all over the five boroughs joined Diaz’s call, including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, State Sen. Brian Benjamin, Assemblymember Michael Blake and Congressman Joe Crowley. All signed the letter to NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye.
“A declaration of emergency is a common sense act NYCHA can take to streamline the procurement process, and it is heartening to see that so many of my colleagues from across the five boroughs agree,” Diaz said. “Clearly, the signatories on this letter understand the urgency to act immediately on behalf of the more than 400,000 tenants who call NYCHA home.”
“The crisis in the New York City Housing Authority’s inability to provide heat, hot water, safe and healthy living conditions is not grounded in lack of competency, transparency or oversight,”
said activist Omowale Clay of the December 12th Movement International Secretariat. “It is founded on the reality of an American political economy that views the land these housing developments sit on as being more valuable than the Black and Brown lives of its tenants, and certainly not worth the massive expenditures required to repair the damage which decades of neglect have wreaked upon the infrastructures of these buildings.”
Unlike many of their apartments, lots of members of the audience were heated. Told several times to stop cheering, they resorted to moving their arms in the international sign language motion for applause when they wanted to express their concurrence with a statement from testimony or statement from Council members such as Speaker Cory Johnson or Richie Torres.
The questioning of Olatoye was intense, but some residents refused to accept the argument that the NYCHA problems were ingrained and decades old in some cases.
“She was let off the hook,” said longtime NYCHA resident Curly Concepcion, Community Voices Heard chapter leader at Chelsea-Elliot Houses. “The council should be screaming for her resignation. Toward the end they just pacified her, after attacking her all day. Ruben Diaz said it is time to clean house.”
Concepcion continued, “Yes it’s been going on for years, but it should have been fixed. When she came on the job, she knew what the problems were. They should have been working on it. If the boilers are out of date—and they are—find the funding and fix them during the summer, so that in the winter months it should not be a problem.”