For some residents of Marble Hill Houses, it’s too hot. For others, too cold.
It’s Goldilocks’ worst nightmare, and in a word, it’s anything but consistent. As bone-chilling temperatures chilled the city Jan. 21, some found themselves shivering in their own apartments as heat failed yet again.
But it’s nothing new, said Jesus Casimiro, who’s lived in the public housing development’s 49 W. 225th St., building for nearly a decade.
“Every time we’re having a snow storm or something, ironically, there’s no hot water, the heaters aren’t working,” Casimiro said. “It’s always something here, always bad.”
So bad, in fact, Marie Rodriguez had to turn on the stove to warm her apartment for herself and her four children. Still, she said, “I was freezing. It was horrible.”
Yet, once the weather warms up, her heat starts working again — too late.
Different lines of apartments have different problems, said Chris Gordon, who’s called Marble Hill home for three decades. “Some people have heat. A lot of people don’t. They’ll say on the news they’re fixing the problem. And it’s not fixed.”
Yet for others like Carmen Guerrido and Elsa Rodriguez, the problem seems to be the opposite.
“Upstairs is so hot, even with the windows open,” Guerrido said. “I don’t understand.”
But none of that takes away from the fact the heating system is utterly unreliable, Gordon said. “It’s messed up, especially if you have kids,” although failures haven’t really affected his line as much as for some of his neighbors.
Marble Hill’s residents aren’t alone. On the contrary, that weekend’s unwelcome iciness was widespread, as public housing facilities in both the Bronx and Brooklyn reportedly faced heating problems that, for some tenants, spilled into Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
In fact, more than 10,000 public housing residents suffered hours-long heat and hot water failures as temperatures plummeted, according to published reports. Epic shortcomings of the New York City Housing Authority’s obsolete heating systems became painfully clear last winter when more than 300,000 residents endured disruptions. Those, along with controversy over lead paint inspections and a laundry list of other issues — from rat infestations to leaking pipes — have aimed a magnifying glass at the agency, to the extent the federal government is considering taking over.
“On a frigid weekend, when temperatures descended into single digits, it is outrageous and unacceptable that thousands of NYCHA residents citywide were without heat,” Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said in a statement.
The wretched conditions Marble Hill Houses residents have suffered prompted Dinowitz and other elected officials to pen a letter to NYCHA last November about what they called inadequate maintenance staffing at the massive development.
The property had been without a superintendent since last April, and had just 18 caretakers — only eight of them trained, certified maintenance workers — tasked with taking care of 11 residential buildings and surrounding grounds, home to more than 3,300 residents.
The elected officials still hadn’t received an official response from NYCHA as of Jan. 22, Dinowitz said, nor had the Assemblyman heard anything about hiring a property superintendent or beefing up Marble Hill’s maintenance staff.
“I have little doubt that the inadequate staffing contributed to Marble Hill’s struggle in addressing this heating failure, among other unmet maintenance needs,” Dinowitz said.
At least the housing authority’s response time seems to have improved citywide, since it took them four to seven hours to restore heat Jan. 21, compared with 36 hours on average last winter, according to reports. But even if, in some cases, heat was restored faster, old, failing boilers have plagued Marble Hill residents far too long, tenant leader Tony Edwards said.
Neighbors complained throughout the day Jan. 21 about extreme cold temperature in their apartments, Edwards said in an email to elected officials. Edwards — a lifelong Marble Hill resident himself — tried to help, calling NYCHA’s customer service center, even the emergency services department and heating superintendent.
“But for many residents, the restoration process was not timely enough,” Edwards wrote, or — maddeningly — their complaints were deemed resolved before they’d even been addressed.
But what’s especially troubling for Edwards is he believes repairs should’ve started long ago. And he’s not the only one who feels that way.
Last April, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration penned a letter to state budget director Robert Mujicia urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to release $250 million dedicated for crucial NYCHA repairs, according to published reports. In the letter, Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, identified 63 “poorly rated” boilers, and heat and hot water system upgrades in 14 developments the state money was to be applied to.
Six of the listed boilers belong to Marble Hill, according to the letter, where the heating equipment was installed more than 30 years ago. The estimated cost of replacing Marble Hill’s aged boilers, and for domestic hot water decoupling, is nearly $21 million.
“This development was slated since last year,” Edwards wrote, “but no work has started.”
Making matters worse, relief could still be a ways off. The state has yet to release $350 million appropriated for NYCHA boiler repairs, a NYCHA spokesperson said. In the meantime, the agency has launched a series of so-called Saturday work order blitzes to chip away at a backlog of nagging unmet maintenance needs.
Still, even if NYCHA is trying, Casimiro says try harder.
“I think they’re not putting they’re best efforts” into fixing his building’s wretched heating system, he said.
“Honestly, they’re just here to collect their check. They’re not here to help. It’s bad, it really is.”