The bitter cold spread everywhere in my apartment as I clung to my coat and blanket for warmth. Not a single whit of heat came through the visible pipes. Doing tasks such as completing my homework is difficult when the only way to feel warm is bundling up on the couch. As a tenant who lives on the fifth floor of a six-story New York City public housing building, heat getting cut off in the middle of winter happens regularly.
Our problems at Amsterdam Housing don’t stop at a lack of heat; we also have to deal with no hot water, the elevator breaking down and a slew of neglected repairs in apartments. Sadly, people in other housing projects managed by the New York City Housing Agency face similar conditions. Some people, such as Mayor Bill de Blasio, may believe that these issues are caused by lack of funding but others believe that the bulk of the agency’s problems actually revolve around waste and inept administration.
NYCHA has now admitted to their illegal cover-ups and failure to provide decent housing for their tenants after agreeing to a consent decree with federal officials on Monday.
I’ve called the public housing complex home since I was 5 years old, and since I’ve come of age, I’ve begun to question the reason behind the broken state of my housing complex. Anyone living anywhere else would be appalled at these conditions and would demand immediate change.
NYCHA never takes responsibility for repairs or maintenance when tenants call to complain, but agency workers expect residents to follow their ridiculous rules.
Danielle Jones, 27, is annoyed with having to follow strict rules while the Housing Authority cannot do their job properly.
“I hate it,” said Jones. “They want so much and give so little.”
Jones says that she constantly deals with a lack of hot water and heat in her apartment. She resents that NYCHA takes months to fix the issues in her apartment, but expects tenants to pay rent on time. Another tenant, who prefers to remain anonymous, called the Housing Authority two times to fix the lights in his kitchen and received no response in return.
Even the front door is an inconvenience, leaving seniors to struggle to push and pull the door on a daily basis.
My building is in horrible condition, but there are other housing complexes that suffer from even worse conditions. In 2016, the Ali family, a family of 10, were living with no bathroom and kitchen at the Queensbridge Houses, preventing the family from showering or drinking water. Their toilet even exploded at one point. Due to the horrible conditions, NYCHA had to pay to move the family to a local hotel for a week.
Out of desperation, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer invited local news affiliate ABC and their investigative series, 7 On Your Side, so that NYCHA would pay attention to these problems.
The Alis aren’t alone, as there are countless families in similar situations. For instance, Norma Concepcion, a resident at Canarsie Breukelen Houses in Brooklyn, had to send her 11-year-old son to live with his grandmother because the mold in their apartment was affecting his asthma. Concepcion no longer calls NYCHA for repairs because NYCHA inspectors only have residents sign forms to show that they inspected apartments, but never return to actually fix the issues for which they were called in to inspect.
It was widely considered wasteful when NYCHA spent $10 million dollars on a report from Boston Consulting Group that documented the issues of NYCHA.
Board members of NYCHA even established an “internal purposes only” clause to keep the data report hidden from the public eye.
To make sure taxpayer money is used efficiently, NYCHA’s management has to be monitored. It is frustrating having to pay to fix problems that are not improving because of poor management, especially when tenants speak out and experience no action in return.
In federal court on Monday, an 80-page civil complaint document was released by Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney in Manhattan. According to de Blasio, NYCHA chose to accept the consent decree rather than face trial. The consent decree allows the court to appoint management to monitor the $1.2 billion dollars in funds for the next five years, including the $200 million that is given to the agency every year. During the federal investigation of NYCHA, numerous illegal coverups were discovered that go against basic human rights.
It was uncovered that between 2010 and 2016, about 19 children were contaminated by lead poisoning due to peeling paint in apartments. In some housing complexes, staff members will shut off water before inspectors arrived so ongoing leaks will not be visible and turn it back on when they leave. NYCHA even had the audacity to give out how-to manuals for their maintenance workers to cover up problems, such as replacing doors and windows with plywood to hide the deteriorated conditions.
The agency needs extensive management reform because it is inexcusable that children and tenants have to live under such horrible conditions.
These problems engender the direst situations, but they can be fixed. I have hope these changes will be addressed because nothing lasts forever.
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