As another frigid winter nears, threatening to deepen the saga of suffering for public housing residents, a slate of local political leaders has called on their landlord to address a lengthy list of longstanding ills afflicting tenants.
More than a half dozen elected officials representing Marble Hill — including Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, Councilman Andrew Cohen and borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. — penned a letter Nov. 2 to Stanley Brezenoff, interim chair and chief executive officer of the city’s public housing authority, on behalf of tenants subjected to chronic issues from leaky pipes, sewage backflows, mold, mildew, vermin and myriad unmet maintenance needs.
“We … fully understand and acknowledge that the New York City Housing Authority is under an immense amount of public scrutiny and has long suffered from a lack of financial support to replace core infrastructure that is well beyond its useful life,” the elected officials wrote. “However, these bureaucratic realities are cold comfort to tenants who suffer without heat or hot water, and in dilapidated apartments.”
The officials also note Marble Hill Houses has been without a property superintendent since last April and has just 18 caretakers — only eight of whom are trained, certified maintenance workers. That’s all for 11 residential buildings and surrounding grounds containing nearly 1,700 apartments and home to more than 3,300 residents, according to NYCHA’s website.
“This is an unacceptably low number of staff to serve such a large complex,” the elected officials wrote.
A NYCHA spokesman confirmed the agency had received the letter but declined to comment further.
Numerous tenants, meanwhile, have complained about repairs that are deemed complete before they actually are, the officials said, as well as unreliable estimated repair dates of many months or even years, and inconsistent quality of work on jobs that require a second or third attempt to resolve what should’ve been a one-shot fix.
And a mercury dip around the corner could spell more plight for residents, leaving the elected officials “vitally concerned” about gas outages in at least four Marble Hill buildings — including Maximina Romero’s West 230th Street home. She’s been forced to cook on a skimpy hot plate for months while interrupted gas service left her new stove out of commission.
The estimated completion of work for Romero’s building — without gas since last August — was listed as “in progress” as of Nov. 9.
At the time of the last tenants’ association meeting Oct. 18, the city’s buildings department had received but a single permit application, for the building at 5360 Broadway, the elected officials said. But as new stoves continue to be installed, more gas lines probably will have to be taken out of service.
Yet, on top of all that, there’s a dire need for a full-time, qualified superintendent to oversee the amalgam of outside contractors responsible for the development’s maintenance needs, the elected officials said. From day-to-day repairs to long-term capital projects — ranging from roof and façade construction jobs to lead paint inspections — plus individual apartment requests need to be addressed.
The elected officials claim they’ve each supported increasing financial support for NYCHA, pushing for additional city, state and federal funding.
While Rivera acknowledged the agency’s precarious financial situation is undeniable, still, that’s no excuse for it to fall short on its responsibility to provide residents safe, healthy homes.
“It’s really outrageous,” Dinowitz said, especially considering NYCHA’s woes have been in broad public view for a long time, yet nothing much seems to change. “You have to have proper staff, or it’s going to get worse and worse.”
The Assemblyman recalls living in a NYCHA building himself decades ago. “But it was nicer,” he said.
Lifelong resident — and now tenant leader — Tony Edwards also can attest to a more pristine past when fastidious staff kept buildings and grounds closer to sparkling. But now? Edwards suspects poor upkeep could have something to do not just with housing authority officials’ alleged neglect, but also workers themselves. And the difference is “night and day.”
“Maybe they don’t work as hard or have the same ethic as the earlier staff,” Edwards said.
Nor are residents completely absolved from keeping the place tidy.
“The people who lived in the development then, as opposed to now, also makes a difference,” Edwards said. “Residents complain that NYCHA’s not doing enough, but the residents themselves are contributing to the problem” by improperly disposing of trash, for example, dumping it in heaps near building entrances and compounding the already strained staff’s Sisyphean workload.
“The tenants here don’t cooperate,” said Carlos Rodriguez, who has lived at Marble Hill for more than a decade. “The No. 1 person to take care of a building is the tenants.”
But none of that negates the fact key repairs and daily problems persist far too long — like the time a leak in Rodriguez’s apartment took more than a month to fix, or the fact on any given day, around half of the buildings could have broken front doors.
Not all residents complain, however. Caesar Suarez, has called Marble Hill home for the last four years, finding room in his cozy, if cluttered, abode with paintings he’s created.
“You can see, it’s pretty good,” he said. “The heat is good. I let other people say this and that — but I’m all right.”
Still, there’s no question much could be improved, Edwards said. Dinowitz, for his part, won’t let up.
“The job they’re doing is just not good enough,” the Assemblyman said of the housing authority. “Last year we saw how often, and how many, people went without heat. It’s a very defeatist attitude to believe that things can’t get any better.
“If wealthy people lived in those buildings, they’d be fixed up very quickly. But it shouldn’t matter. I know there’s a financial crisis. We know that (NYCHA) need(s) a lot of money. But this is not a negotiable thing.”
And while Edwards may not have control of the coffers, he’s committed to assuaging the ills afflicting Marble Hill.
“There’s a lot of frustration,” he said. “From a leader’s position, you do what you can to get people involved. People just start to throw their hands up.
“We’re not in a perfect world and we’d like things to be better. Times are different. People are different. It’s something everybody needs to work together on.”