Politico: Troubled housing authority experiences heating outages before winter even begins

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One month into October, some 72,000 public housing residents have lost heat — a significant number so early in the season.

A New York City Housing Authority executive said 32,000 of the authority’s roughly 175,000 apartments lost heat or hot water this month, and it took officials an average of 12.8 hours to restore service.

NYCHA, which needs nearly $32 billion for unmet capital repairs, experienced widespread heat and hot water outages last winter, prompting Mayor Bill de Blasio to budget $200 million for upgrades at 20 developments. But the new equipment will not be ready for this “heating season,” which began Oct. 1, and the housing authority warned breaks in service are likely to continue.

“We do unfortunately expect outages to occur, but we hope to be better equipped and be able to solve the heat and water problems as they arise more quickly,” senior vice president Joey Koch told the board at a public meeting on Wednesday.

She attributed the early outages to “fluctuating temperatures,” which forced “manual intervention” of systems. The problems would be better regulated when the weather becomes more consistently cold, she added.

Earlier this month, de Blasio announced the city had hired 50 new technicians to deal with heating equipment and contracted with two private companies — for a cost of up to $46 million annually, per the contracts — to improve problems across the sprawling housing authority.

But he warned he could not promise a winter free of outages at the authority's 2,516 buildings.

“I think the truth is we’re not saying we think everything is going to be perfect this coming winter,” he said at the press conference. “I don’t think New Yorkers like to be taken down the primrose path. … But what I can say is I think some real improvement is coming and I think we can make a real difference.”

Maria Forbes, a tenant association president with the Claremont Consolidated development in the Bronx, said one of her residents lost heat for 28 hours during a recent storm.

In an interview, she referred to the housing authority as “incompetent” and likened conditions in her development to a “third world country.” She said she is concerned for seniors and those with medical conditions as winter approaches.

“A lot of families are at high risk here for catching colds and going to school with germs and going to work with germs,” Forbes said.

“Who goes to work washing up in the sink every day, because there’s no hot water?” she added.

Judith Goldiner, a Legal Aid Society attorney whose organization is suing NYCHA for rent reimbursements from last winter’s heat problems, admonished the authority.

“Unfortunately we have 72,000 more reasons to doubt NYCHA’s readiness for winter,” she said in a statement. “Based on the [housing] authority’s track record, we also doubt that all unplanned heat and hot water outages are being reported.”