By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
After Superstorm Sandy hit New York, flooding the basements of hundreds of buildings in shoreline communities and knocking boilers out of power, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) installed temporary boilers to provide heat and hot water for tenants.
Nearly 18 months later, the “temporary” boilers are still there.
This proved to be a major problem this winter when the city suffered through numerous snow storms. The boilers, which were funded with money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are located outside the NYCHA buildings, not in the basements. During one particularly severe snow storm, the temporary boiler serving O’Dwyer Gardens in Coney Island was knocked out, leaving hundreds of tenants without heat or hot water.
“It was outrageous,” Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Coney Island-Gravesend-Bensonhurst) told the Brooklyn Eagle. Treyger accused the city of using “a band-aid” approach to the problem. “FEMAS is paying $3 million a month for faulty products that don’t work,” he said.
O'Dwyer Gardens has six buildings, 15 and 16-stories high with 573 apartments housing an estimated 1,059 residents, according to NYCHA’s website. Built in 1969, the 6.34-acre complex is located between West 32nd and West 35th streets and between Surf and Mermaid avenues.
Last week, US Senator Charles Schumer and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that after prolonged negotiations, Schumer secured a commitment from FEMA that they would provide funding for NYCHA to install new, state-of-the-art boilers to replace the ones damaged by the storm. The boilers serve 110 separate residential buildings in Coney Island, Rockaways and the Lower East Side, affecting 8,862 units.
Since the storm, NYCHA has been spending $3 million a month for the temporary boilers.
Schumer and de Blasio announced that FEMA has agreed not to challenge NYCHA’s repair cost estimates and will pay for brand new boilers, rather than just repair the damaged ones.
"For more than 16 months, bureaucratic infighting and red tape have denied NYCHA residents the most basic of necessities – reliable heat and hot water," Schumer said. "Today we're firmly on the path to righting a wrong that has too often left NYCHA residents in the cold during the winter and in the dark at night."
"When Superstorm Sandy made landfall nearly a year and a half ago, it brought with it death, tragedy and destruction. Too often the wait for relief and recovery has exacerbated the tragedy of the storm – a reality NYCHA residents know all too well. These replacement boilers will bring not only reliable hot water and heat water to so many, but essential peace-of-mind," de Blasio said.
“NYCHA has been working aggressively for a year to tap the financial resources needed to restore our Sandy-damaged buildings. Thank you to our FEMA colleagues for engaging in negotiations and making the commitment to secure the recovery funding we need to begin the work necessary to bring these buildings – these homes – damaged by Sandy up to a state of repair and resiliency,” NYCHA Chairman Shola Olatoye said.
Treyger, who serves as chairman of the council's Recovery and Resiliency Committee, which monitors Sandy-related developments, held a joint hearing with the Council’s Public Housing Committee in early March to focus on the boiler breakdown. The hearing took place in a NYCHA building in Coney Island instead of at City Hall.
“Resident after resident came and testified about the hardships they’ve had to endure because of these temporary boilers not working,” Treyger said.
Treyger said he is pleased that FEMA is going to pay to replace the boilers and vowed to monitor the progress. “I don’t want NYCHA tenants to go through another winter like this one,” he told the Eagle.
In another development, Schumer said he is also pushing New York City’s separate application to FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant program (HMGP). He is pushing for $175 million in federal funding to raise boilers, backup generators and change the way several NYCHA complexes receive their heat and electricity.
Schumer said that he expects NYCHA to receive some type of mitigation funding to raise boilers out of the flood zone.