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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

NYCHA, “Somewhat reminiscent of the biblical plagues”

It’s been a bad year for NYCHA. Happy (cold) Thanksgiving.

It's been a bad year for NYCHA. Happy

It's been a bad year for NYCHA. Happy (cold) Thanksgiving. Photo Credit: Ivan Pereira

Lots of people were bringing home turkeys at the Red Hook Houses on Monday. And a lot of people were complaining about the heat.

Take Trevor Judson, 26, carrying a bird to cook and a toy to give his 3-year-old daughter. He said his heat had been on and off for the last couple days. Was that frustrating, with temperatures heading below freezing? Judson shrugged.

“There’s a lot of things you can’t count on in Housing.”

That would be the New York City Housing Authority, a notoriously bad landlord.

The details of that badness have become stark. See it in the cascading scandals about the widespread presence of toxic lead in NYCHA apartments and the agency skipping inspections. In a lawsuit filed by the U.S. attorney in the Southern District earlier this year. In the settlement among the city, federal government, and NYCHA that was rejected just last week by federal Judge William H. Pauley, who outlined the “breathtaking scope of NYCHA’s deficiencies” that led to conditions “[s]omewhat reminiscent of the biblical plagues of Egypt.” The settlement was too poorly crafted, in the judge’s opinion, to fit the scope of the problem, so he sent the parties back to the drawing board. Then the judge went to town on NYCHA in his 52-page rejection, which includes the subhead “Mold, Heat, Elevators, and Vermin,” and details like how NYCHA faked exterminations by spraying water. And none of that touches on the more than $30 billion needed in capital improvements.

The inane cruelties of bureaucracy are not academic for residents like Judson, standing outside with his turkey dangling on the way home from work at Manhattan’s City Winery.

He says he recently needed to have the stove in his apartment replaced because you could often smell gas even when the stove was off. Sometimes you’d hear that clicking that means the igniter is firing for no reason. He says it took a couple weeks before NYCHA put in a new stove. Meanwhile, he left windows open and even put on the AC to keep the air blowing.

NYCHA. Now You Can Have it All.

At least Judson has a functional stove for Thanksgiving. Others worried about continued heat problems on the holiday, which is expected to be extremely cold. Early Tuesday morning, a NYCHA outage database showed heat issues at the big Building 1 of Red Hook West. Citywide, the database indicated that over 2,000 residents had been impacted by heat or hot water service interruptions. A NYCHA official said Tuesday the authority was repairing the heat service interruption in Red Hook and, as of 6 p.m., expected heat to be back in four to six hours.

But the residents know the routine. You call up. You wait for a ticket. The heat comes back, eventually. Soon it might fail again. You call again. These days, now that NYCHA’s in the news and vaguely on political minds, you might get a robocall saying the heat was out. Residents joked that you knew it was the holiday season because something wasn’t working — either the elevators, the heat, or the water. Space heaters and extra blankets are common.

It doesn’t exactly make for easy entry into the holidays. One resident, C. Jordan, 73, was angry at the constant problems. She pays rent, why should she sleep in a robe? Why does the lousy paint peel so quickly? Why does she have recurring ceiling leaks? She would be spending Thanksgiving with her home health aide in Clinton Hill. For one day at least, away from Red Hook and NYCHA.

“They’re not doing their job,” she said.

Programming note: amExpress will be back next week. Happy Thanksgiving!

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