Public Housing Advocates Push Back Against Neglect - Katie Anastas



KAREN MANIRAHO, HOST: Lead. Mold. Roaches. Gas outages. Residents of New York City Housing Authority buildings have dealt with these problems for years.


Now, as Katie Anastas reports, advocates and politicians are calling for change in the final months of the De Blasio administration.


KATIE ANASTAS, BYLINE: Lea Potter is president of the Tenant Association at Lincoln Houses, a NYCHA development in Harlem. She and other leaders are calling on Mayor De Blasio to address an uptick in maintenance issues and other poor living conditions.


LEA POTTER: Look at our lead. Look at the mold. Look at the rats. Look at the roaches. Where’s our heat, Mr. De Blasio? Where’s our hot water?


ANASTAS: New attention to these problems has come in the last few months.


One housing complex, the Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn, has had a gas outage since January. Residents are cooking on electric hot plates provided by the New York City Housing Authority. Tenants at two other complexes are currently suing NYCHA for elevator, heat and hot water issues.


Jumaane Williams is the New York City Public Advocate. He says a city response is long overdue.


JUMAANE WILLIAMS: We have seen some false starts, a lot of false promises, towards progress on better maintenance and employment practices, as well as attention to health issues like lead and elevator safety, according to residents. But we need sustained commitment and targeted action.


ANASTAS: At a press conference yesterday, Williams called for the De Blasio administration to make three key reforms in the mayor’s final months in office.


First, he wants changes to the schedule of maintenance workers at NYCHA complexes. The current scheduling system can leave complexes understaffed.


At the press conference, State Housing Committee chair Senator Brian Kavanaugh said this program causes delays in basic maintenance duties.


BRIAN KAVANAUGH: This Alternative Work Schedule program, which, you know, is no doubt well-intentioned, clearly has not only not solved the problem, but in many situations, made things worse in terms of maintenance and trash removal and cleaning.


ANASTAS: Second, Williams wants the city to do a better job enforcing a mandate that says 30% of the NYCHA workforce includes NYCHA residents.


Tenant advocate Chris Banks says employing residents to work at their own complexes could help the city make repairs faster. Plus, he says --


CHRIS BANKS: That’s a component to help give NYCHA some level of independence and give tenants the feeling that there’s some type of ownership, that there’s some type of connection.


ANASTAS: Third, Williams wants to expand tenant participation in decision-making and leadership opportunities.


City Council member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who represents Brooklyn, said this is part of needed reform at all levels of NYCHA leadership.


ALICKA AMPRY-SAMUEL: We need to be looking at management and organizational structure, because there has to be a change in how NYCHA does business.


ANASTAS: City officials estimate they’ll need $40 million to complete all the repairs. In the meantime, advocate Chris Banks is looking ahead to the next administration.


BANKS: I think the next Mayor, the next City Council, can’t just be talkers. They have to really have a heart for NYCHA and really want to see, not just gradual change, but radical change.


ANASTAS: The City has planned to conduct gas piping inspections since late last year. Earlier this month, they announced that these inspections would be completed by June 30th.


Katie Anastas, Columbia Radio News.