Stepping outside yesterday felt like a swan dive into the Arctic circle, minus the snow: Piercing, burning cold made immeasurably worse by biting wind gusting by at an unholy 45 mph. In temps like these, you will understandably want to shelter indoors, where the wind can't get you. For estimated thousands of NYCHA residents, however, the air inside their apartments felt almost as cold as the air outside. On the coldest day of the year so far, NYCHA units across the city went without heat and hot water—a continuation of a longstanding trend within the agency's housing.
"My body can't take the cold anymore. Last night, I was up all night. I couldn't sleep," Carol Miles, an 83-year-old resident of the Sedgwick Houses in the Bronx, told the NY Daily News. "I walk around with my coat on."
Miles has been running her stove as her primary heat source, and hasn't been able to warm her home enough to prevent icicles from forming inside. The windows, she added, lack sufficient insulation: "The wind last night, I'm telling you—these windows, I thought they were going to come out. The windows are no good. Period."
According to the Legal Aid Society, which tracks unplanned outages, "Over 6,000 NYCHA residents [were] without working heat and/or hot water" on Monday morning, at public housing developments in Brooklyn and in the Bronx. By Tuesday morning, the group reported that the number of unserved residents across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx had risen to almost 12,000 over the past 24 hours. During that period, temps hovered around 10 degrees, but windchill made everything feel subzero—at times as frigid as negative 18 degrees.
New York City was recently voted New York City's worst landlord for a reason: NYCHA faces a $32 billion funding shortage, money it needs to address a frankly staggering repair backlog across its over 176,000 units. In November, a federal judge rejected a consent decree that would've funneled over $1 billion in municipal funds toward NYCHA reform, describing the proposal as an insufficient, even unrealistic, response to what he called the "disastrous human toll resulting from a complete bureaucratic breakdown of the largest public housing agency in the United States," and suggesting the federal government should step in. (Thanks to the partial government shutdown, negotiations between the city and HUD remain up in the air.)
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of kids across the city have been exposed to lead paint and at least 1,160 have tested positive for lead poisoning—a phenomenon NYCHA tried, and failed, to cover up. Residents have repeatedly complained about "inhumane" living conditions: Rats of truly monstrous proportions, giant rotting trash piles left to fester in communal courtyards, mold, crumbling infrastructure, and a persistent lack of heat and hot water. In mid-October, just three weeks into our current heat season, 35,000 NYCHA residents had reportedly experienced heat and hot water outages.
"No heat, no hot water! It's cold in here! We got the stove going all day and still freezing!" 77-year-old Deloris Byrd, a resident of the Bushwick Houses, told the NY Post. "It's terrible!"
Mayor Bill de Blasio has committed over $200 million to fixing chronic outages and handling heat emergencies, and a NYCHA spokesperson emphasized that its average wait time for service restoration had dropped to 10 hours this season from 36 hours at this time last year. Heading into the weekend, which we knew would end in "frozen mess," NYCHA said in a press release that it would activate its situation room and bring in extra staff—including heating response teams, plumbers, electricians, operators at the customer service call center, and people to run 12 extra warming centers—to expediently address complaints.
"NYCHA is working around the clock to ensure our staff is prepared to respond to any disruptions for our residents this holiday weekend," NYCHA General Manager Vito Mustaciuolo said in a statement. "We encourage any resident who experiences heat or hot water service interruptions to report these issues to NYCHA immediately so we can resolve them as quickly as possible."
But with such a vast resource gap, NYCHA's ability to make lasting fixes longterm remains in question, and residents are left to deal with the fallout. Amber Sanchez, who lives in a Brownsville NYCHA building, told ABC 7 New York that she is running three extra heaters, boiling water, and sleeping in bed with her daughter to stay warm: "We pay for our electricity in this building so it's not fair that we have to have heaters going so we can have heat in the apartment."