November 22, 2022 by Emily Davenport
The testing lab that found arsenic in the water at the Riis Houses may have retracted its findings, but that’s cold comfort for the building’s residents, who have a massive backlog of other problems.
Nor residents at Wald Houses or Baruch Houses — other New York Housing Authority complexes located on the Lower East Side waterfront in Councilmember Carlina Rivera’s district. Last week, Rivera visited those buildings about the residents’ ongoing repair needs, and Tuesday led a rally at City Hall to demand that the housing authority fix its dismal repair response times.
At the rally, the councilmember and NYCHA residents described persistent leaks, cracked paint, mold, shoddy repairs, gas and heat outages, missing cabinets and pest infestations. Fixes can take over a year or several to take place, and residents report that NYCHA will consistently close out repair requests in its system without fixing them.
“These are people who are compliant. They document everything. They call NYCHA. They’re constantly available to ensure that this can get repaired. But due to lack of desire and competency, poor management and neglect, they continue to live in these conditions,” Rivera said.
The councilmember demanded that NYCHA expand its water testing in her district and streamline its repairs process in accordance with the guidance of its federal monitor. She also focused on Mayor Adams, urging him to put out a comprehensive housing plan that includes preserving and repairing NYCHA’s housing stock.
Sheranne White, a Riis Houses resident who uses an electric wheelchair due to leg infirmities, said that part of her recommended physical therapy involves a warm bath for her legs. She said has not been able to use her bathtub for this treatment because for over two years NYCHA has not responded to a request to fix persistent mold and damages to it.
“They don’t even know what they’re doing to people. It’s not right. Psychologically, physically, mentally they are destroying people,” White said.
Despite the installation of a federal monitor to oversee the public housing agency in 2019, the time to respond to non-emergency repairs has gotten substantially worse in recent years. The CITY reported the Mayor’s Management Report found that NYCHA took an average of 49 days to resolve tenants’ non-emergency repair requests over the past year, which was two-and-a-half times longer than in 2019. But that statistic was limited to requests closed within that year. Taking into account the tens of thousands that were still open, NYCHA’s internal data shows that it took an average of 310 days to resolve a non-emergency repair request during that same period.
Rivera said that following through on a very basic request would begin to address this problem: NYCHA needs to bundle more repair projects to decrease the number of bureaucratic Office of Management and Budget approvals it needs to submit.
“This was actually a recommendation by the federal monitor that has been overseeing NYCHA…” said Rivera. “If you bundle it and get it done at a larger scale, there will be more efficiency to come.”
State Senator Brian Kavanaugh echoed Rivera’s demands and called for more attention on the myriad of poor conditions that have gone perennially unaddressed. Though the Riis water story made a huge splash, the basic repair problems are just as dire.
“There are tenants without heat when it’s excessively cold every day. Every day there are horrible conditions that are causing toxic mold and other conditions in their homes,” Kavanaugh said.