By Jarrett Murphy, City Limits
Reporting from CityLimits.org
Mary Smith had one problem, and then she had several. The heating in her living room at the Fiorentino Plaza Houses in East New York conked out about three years ago. Then her hot water went. She began hauling pots of hot water from the stove to her bathroom to bathe. But then she injured her neck and back in a fall, making the water-bearing impossible.
Smith’s distress is distinct but the underlying story is common among residents of the New York City Housing Authority, the nation’s oldest and largest public housing agency, which struggles amid funding reductions to maintain an empire of 330-odd developments—many with aging buildings and infrastructure—that house a population of at least 400,000.
Many of NYCHA’s problems stem from its fiscal fragility. But management issues also play a role. As common as are the complaints about repair requests getting ignored are the reports of maintenance workers arriving but doing a slap-dash job: painting over mold rather than eradicating it, patching up plaster instead of clamping off the source of a leak.
In November, the community organization East Brooklyn Congregations packed hundreds of NYCHA residents into a room to meet with NYCHA management, presented a detailed list of needed repairs and demanded that they be completed by Christmas.
Sources tell City Limits that as of last week, at least 75 percent of the requested repairs, including the fix to Smith’s living-room radiator, have been completed—comprising 362 tasks. That number is expected to rise as more data comes in. Some 120 repairs weren’t done.
And the to-do list is expanding again as 140 new repair needs have just been identified to the agency.
That revised list was presented last week at a meeting where a packed house of EBC members and supporters greeted the newly installed NYCHA chairwoman, Shola Olatoye, who took office on March 3.
Olatoye impressed people by coming out to meet with a tough audience a mere four days into her tenure. Unlike her predecessor John Rhea, a financial adviser before he took charge of NYCHA, Olatoye has experience with housing policy, coming to the city from a post as vice president at Enterprise Community Partners, which finances affordable housing.
But the management challenge posed by NYCHA is new to Olatoye. Smith says her heat is still unreliable on cold days. “It was fixed. But last night was freezing,” she says. “On the coldest nights we don’t have it.” She says Olatoye needs to deliver. “She sounds sincere but I really don’t know her. I just hope she walks the walk as well as talking the talk. So far all her predecessors have done nothing.”
According to Smith, NYCHA leadership was supposed to meet with an EBC delegation on Friday.