O’Dwyer Gardens building Credit: Sophia Williams photo

Strolling down the boardwalk, Sophia Williams rattles off what she loves about living in Coney Island. She’s waterfront, with room to take long walks and enough quiet to enjoy New York City in retirement. There’s a semi-unobstructed view of the Manhattan skyline from her place and she lives on a street co-named after her late husband, Robert “Mr. Lou” Williams. But there’s a problem. Williams and her neighbors haven’t gotten cooking gas for over half a year.

This past Monday, 53 Coney Island public housing residents including Williams took NYCHA to court over the issue, along with general maintenance grievances. They say a hot plate and a slow cooker are the only things Housing Authority offered them as stoves remain off. 

“You can’t prepare a meal for a family with a hot plate, one little hot plate is not going to do it,” said Williams, who serves as vice chair of her tenant association. “Because a meal consists of more than one item, you don’t want to spend seven hours, and you only have two items to prepare for that meal. That’s the biggest problem.

“And then with the slow cooker that they gave, a lot of people complain that it just is a slow cooker. Very slow.”

The tenants live in Coney Island Sites 4 and 5 and O’Dwyer Gardens NYCHA complexes. Roughly a third are elders. Some are diabetic, and struggle to find healthy, affordable food nearby without cooking. And the lack of gas is compounded with other building issues, the court filing alleges. Dirty balconies are magnets for rats and other vermin. Stairwells are missing steps. And the elevators are almost always out of service. For resident Felita Jackson, getting down from the fourth floor is a major issue.

“I know sometimes we have a problem with the elevator,” she said. “I go to physical therapy, sometimes I can’t get there because the elevators are not working. And they prefer me not to go down the stairs if I’m by myself.”

According to The Gothamist, the issues largely stem from Hurricane Sandy. 

The tenants are represented by Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A. The organization says this is their third such lawsuit against NYCHA this year. Director Kristie Ortiz-Lam recalls both previous cases were resolved shortly after litigation began. 

“It’s Black and brown people, right?” she said. “It generally is impoverished people who are living way below the poverty line. And so these people are completely disenfranchised everywhere, in every part of our society. And so of course, they get ignored, and people don’t listen to them. And so it is 100% a race issue. It’s a social economic issue.”

She also mentions there are residents the organization represents who pay upwards of $2,200 a month for NYCHA housing due to higher income. 

For now, NYCHA projects gas will be reconnected around Nov. 1, coinciding with the next court date, according to Ortiz-Lam. The department says it does not comment on ongoing litigation.

Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w 

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