Residents of NYCHA’s Fort Independence Houses say they have been living without heat and hot water since October, and now they have had enough.
As reported by the Bronx Times in January, residents of 3340 Bailey Ave. in the Bronx have been long suffering from the lack of heat, leaving children and the elderly in inhumane conditions. Now residents charge that they are not only sick of living in frigid temperatures, they are also rebuking a whole host of other quality of life issues.
State of decay
From mold and leaks to broken elevators, gaping holes, and rat infestations, tenants who call Fort Independence Houses home claim living in the NYCHA building is a waking nightmare. NYCHA workers say the situation had been rectified after installing a temporary boiler outside. However, longtime residents disagree, stating that the situation is the worst it has ever been.
“What’s been happening out here is bull crap. I am paying this rent and I am freezing to death,” Madea Green said who has lived in the building since 1989. “I sleep with my gloves and hat and coat on. This is pathetic.”
On Feb. 8, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams was scheduled to meet with several, long-suffering residents. However, prior to the elected officials’ arrival, amNewYork Metro undertook an independent investigation, uncovering exposed ceilings with creaked, leaking pipes, mold-covered walls, and holes leading directly into apartments. The shocking state of the building left workers and longtime residents unfazed, since they are used to living in constant squalor. According to 22 year resident Jorge Davila, this is nothing out of the ordinary.
“There are a lot of problems. Only one elevator was working, one day it is working and another day it is not. The heat comes on and off—it is never on when you need it at night.”
After gaining access to both the temporary boiler and the original boiler room, amNewYork Metro discovered that only one boiler in the building is in working order while the others have been gutted. According to a NYCHA staff member, the heat is being supported by the exterior furnace. Yet residents like Green say there have been little improvements.
“Why should we pay rent and we in the freezing cold?” Green asked.
On the second floor, pipes could be observed unleashing a shower of water, caught only by a collection of recycling bins. Unfortunately, after the Public Advocate arrived alongside the Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson, they discovered further instances of decay.
Tiara Napira has a newborn baby and a 14-year-old teen with special needs and despite only residing in her 13th floor apartment for one year, she says life has been a struggle.
“I advise you to come back at night because it is freezing, and I have a heater in here,” Napira said, admitting to using multiple space heaters in order to keep herself and her family warm.
This comes after last month’s Bronx fire that was ignited by a faulty space heater and claimed the lives of 17 tenants. Heat is not Napira’s only issue, however. She also explained that during inclement weather, rainwater spills in through the walls.
“It just leaks out right onto the floor. I bought corking stuff. I try to like cork, wherever I feel like a breeze,” Napira said, holding her baby.
Another resident, Matt Moran, also complained of a leak that has been plaguing him for over half a decade. He says water pours into his kitchen from an overhead pipe.
“It comes through the outlet and it leaks all over here. It’s probably been six years.” Moran explained, saying he can’t keep up with the cleaning as it is a near constant flow. Moran, who lives with his elderly mother, also spoke of a mold issue that is spreading throughout his bathroom.
“It took them about four months to install that shower and in that time period we had to go to the neighbor to shower because there was no shower,” Moran said.
The Public Advocate’s demands
After visiting several NYCHA residents, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams touted a series of recommendations NYCHA follow in order to improve living conditions, the chief of which include better communication and better repair models.
Williams declared that the landlord must hold those who make substandard repairs accountable and follow up with residents, only ceasing the restoration when tenants sign off. The Public Advocate also urged the building to create a grading system which would ensure the most severe cases are rectified first.
“NYCHA is the worst landlord in the city – the heating and hot water outages at Fort Independence Houses and across the five boroughs are at once entirely unacceptable and entirely predictable given NYCHA’s history of mismanagement and chronic underfunding,” Williams said after the tour. “The recommendations we are putting forth today to reform NYCHA’s repair process will help allow for better communication with and better conditions for tenants. The city has an obligation here and across the city to provide safe, quality housing– an obligation they fail to live up to far too often, and one that I believe these proposals are an important part of finally meeting.”
Above the Public Advocate’s rebuke and shocking images, the residents of Fort Independence Houses look to remind the city that they are real people suffering.
In response to the conditions, a NYCHA spokesperson had this to say: “While this heat season has been challenging due to significantly low temperatures and deteriorating infrastructure as a result of ongoing disinvestment, NYCHA has demonstrated significant progress since 2019 in addressing heat at its developments through improvements to heating operations and response, including increased staffing, roving teams, mobile boilers, planned preventative maintenance and a 24-hour heat desk.”