New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Coney Island Houses residents, along with Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, rang the alarm on the development’s newly installed heating and hot water boilers experiencing outages last week Thursday, Dec 2. Though services were eventually restored weeks later, the main complaints centered on how long it took management to properly respond and about the equipment.
“NYCHA by many is considered not a very good landlord,” said Frontus. “Some would say a slumlord. That’s just what it is. They don’t always do right by tenants.”
Frontus maintained that the heating issue is especially urgent because Coney Island is so close to open water and is much colder than other parts of the city.
Superstorm Sandy devastated Coney Island and the NYCHA developments in the area back in 2012. Because of the storm, almost $700 million of the wider $3.2 billion Recovery and Resilience program was poured into fixing the nine developments.
Three of the developments—namely Coney Island Houses, Coney Island 1B, and Coney Island 4 and 5—were outfitted with new “modern, energy-efficient, natural gas-powered boilers.” The boilers have been operational since August 2021 in a raised structure to prevent flooding damage from future storm surge or heavy rain, said a NYCHA spokesperson.
Lauretta Brumfield, Coney Island Houses Tenant Association president, said the heat and hot water had been off for about three weeks. She said that there were about 16 other people who had contacted her with ticket complaint numbers they had already filed with NYCHA before she started calling NYCHA’s heating department directly for answers. There are 543 units in the development in total. Brumfield confirmed that by Friday, Dec 3, the day after the press conference, that the heat was on and the hot water was working again.
“These are brand new boilers. This is the first year with these boilers so it can’t be—Sandy ruined the last boilers and these million dollar boilers don’t work? I don’t understand,” said Brumfield.
The boilers are also supposed to be sized to provide full capacity even if one is down for service. Since Oct. 1, Coney Island Houses have experienced four heat outages and one hot water outage. The four heat outages were all related to the same incident on Nov. 15, affecting four separate apartment lines, said a NYCHA spokesperson.
According to NYCHA, the outages were “related to distribution issues and not equipment failure” while the “hot water outage was due to a malfunctioning mixing valve.” NYCHA said that there are currently no more issues with the boilers and hot water systems at Coney Island Houses.
As of Monday, Dec. 6, NYCHA heat and hot water outages website said there are four unplanned outages affecting 1,685 apartments in 17 buildings. That adds up to 3,554 people in various parts of the boroughs. The site also notes 47 gas outages in parts of Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens, as well as four buildings in Manhattan and the Bronx experiencing electric outages.
“This heat season, Coney Island Houses has a newly installed regulated system, WEMS (Wireless Energy Module System), which controls apartment comfort levels based on indoor apartment temperatures, as opposed to a valve bypass unregulated system that often overheated apartments,” said a NYCHA spokesperson in a statement. “This means that residents will have cooler temperatures than they are used to, but those temperatures are still within the appropriate range for the heat season.”
From Oct. 1 through May 31, building owners must maintain an indoor temperature of at least 68 degrees between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. when it’s below 55 degrees outside. From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., indoor temperature must be at least 62 degrees regardless of the temperature outside, said NYCHA.
Brumfield explained that NYCHA has a subcontractor through National Grid that turns the heat on and off now. When tenants complain, she said, they first send a NYCHA person to check the temperature of the apartments then a National Grid person and then finally a NYCHA person comes again. “We get lost in this whole system because sometimes if housing comes to check the temperature, sometimes residents we have our stoves on, our [electric] heaters on because we’re cold,” said Brumfield.
Due to chronic underfunding over the course of decades, various NYCHA housing developments citywide usually experience a degree of outages in the colder months, leaving tenants scrambling to heat their apartments in increasingly dangerous ways which includes using open ovens. Coney Island residents said collectively that they were extremely cold at night in the last month when the heat was off. Some were forced to have their children sleep in winter coats.
“I’ve never had to go through what we’re dealing with now. NYCHA just doesn’t seem to care about us. I’ve been here since 1968 and have never seen it like this,” said Coney Island Houses resident Margaret Williams. “I remember when you just had to make a phone call and they would actually come and fix it. Why do we pay rent just to have a cold apartment? Why is it that NYCHA doesn’t care? We are fed up.”
Frontus said that living without heat and hot water during winter is a violation of people’s civil rights and if necessary she’d help tenants in her district go to court. “It’s really inhumane. I think it’s actually criminal to do this to people,” said Frontus.
The remaining developments on Coney Island are under construction and will have new, raised heat and hot water systems operational in 2022 and 2023, said NYCHA.
NYCHA said that FEMA-funded improvements are not “the entire universe” of infrastructure work that needs to be done to address heat and hot water since other issues are unrelated to damage from Superstorm Sandy. There are additional piping and distribution investments NYCHA will continue to make as funds become available.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w