Public housing tenants were forced to endure a 25% spike in heat and hot water outages during the coldest months of the past year, as the cash-strapped New York City Housing Authority struggled to keep pace with busted boilers and heating systems, records show.
NYCHA campuses across the city experienced 3,605 utility outages during the most recent heat season, which lasted from Oct. 1, 2021 to May 31, 2022. That figure is up from 2,872 the previous year, according to data obtained by the Legal Aid Society through a Freedom of Information Law request. There have been at least 958 heat, hot water and complete water outages so far this season, which began Oct. 1, 2022, a review of publicly available data shows.
Legal Aid is calling on NYCHA to waive rent for tenants affected by heat and water outages.
“While NYCHA has made some improvements to mitigate utility outages, residents still suffer lapses in service on a daily basis,” said Judith Goldiner, the top attorney in Legal Aid’s Civil Law Reform Unit.
Goldiner also urged the city, state and federal government to step in to fund improvements to the city’s public housing stock following decades of disinvestment. NYCHA is currently facing a fresh budget crisis that officials have attributed to a rise in unpaid rents since the start of the COVID pandemic. The agency has said a plan to change the federal funding source for buildings that enter a newly created Preservation Trust could lead to increased revenue.
It’s not the first time in recent months that heating outages have been flagged.
The rise in heat outages was previously noted in a November 2022 report by a federal monitor tasked with overseeing operations and the prompt resolution of problems at NYCHA campuses. The monitor, Barry Schwartz, cited “breakdowns in the summer preventive maintenance program” heading into last year’s heat season.
“The result was that much of NYCHA’s heating equipment was not prepared for the coming heating season,” Schwartz’s report stated.
Schwartz said the housing agency has since made “significant upgrades” to its heating systems and met an obligation to replace at least 70 boilers by the end of 2022.
But that’s cold comfort for tenants at the Fort Independence Houses in the Kingsbridge section of The Bronx who faced a four-day heat outage last month as temperatures dipped into the single digits..
Fort Independence Houses Tenant Association President Barbara Lauray told Gothamist she slept near her open stove, which she kept running to heat her apartment.
“It was so cold you couldn’t even sleep in your bedroom,” Lauray said. “You had to pull your mattress into the kitchen and turn the oven on.”
She said she did not use a space heater because she was afraid of the device catching fire.
Heat outages have been a persistent problem for the Fort Independence Houses’ roughly 700 residents since 2021. During the recent outage, which lasted from Dec. 24 to 28, NYCHA commissioned two city buses to idle outside the apartment buildings and provide a warm place for tenants to sit, Lauray said.
“No one was coming out of their freezing cold apartment to walking in the freezing cold outside when it’s 6 degrees out,” she said.
She said the tenant association asked for extra blankets but did not receive them.
Residents in at least two NYCHA complexes—the Boynton Avenue Rehab Houses and the LaGuardia Houses— contended with unplanned heat and hot water outages on Monday, data showed. NYCHA scheduled outages to conduct maintenance at three other complexes.
NYCHA spokesperson Barbara Brancaccio said the authority “needs significant funding to address longstanding public housing capital needs.”
“Utility outages are the direct result of building infrastructure that every year further deteriorates after decades of federal disinvestment,” Brancaccio said. “We thank the advocates for calling on our partners for support.”