An abrupt gas outage at a Harlem public housing complex will now stretch into the summer, forcing residents to cook on hot plates for at least the next six months.
The New York City Housing Authority cut the gas at the Grant Houses in West Harlem after discovering a leak on Jan. 9. Days later, staff alerted tenants at 550 West 125th Street, known as Building 3, that gas would be restored by July 31, according to notices given to residents. This affects 226 apartments, according to a NYCHA spokesperson.
The Grant Houses were one of 60 NYCHA campuses affected by gas outages on Thursday, according to NYCHA’s online utility tracker. A cut-off at O’Dwyer Gardens in Coney Island dates back to last February,
Roxana Gonzalez-Martinez, a bridal stylist who has lived in her Grant Houses apartment for five years, said she has come to expect lengthy outages. She said she got her first taste of the problem when NYCHA cut the gas for three months in July 2021 and her husband, a lifelong Grant Houses resident, warned her that outages tend to drag on.
“He said they don’t give out hotplates unless it’s going to be a while,” she recalled.
A few days ago, NYCHA staff began distributing hotplates again.
Gonzalez-Martinez said the outage is a particular problem for her family because the kitchen fuse blows anytime they turn on more than one appliance at a time. She’s also a baker with a blog focused on marijuana-infused recipes.
“Going three months with a hotplate was brutal,” Gonzalez-Martienez said. “Now it’s more than six months and I’m beside myself.”
NYCHA spokesperson Nekoro Gomes said the agency had good reason to cut gas service at Building 3. Inspectors discovered a “major leak” in an underground gas main leading to the building and NYCHA is now working with a contractor to figure out how long it will take to turn the gas back on, Gomes said.
“Service restoration work is a matter of public safety that involves multiple partners and steps,” Gomes said.
But local Councilmember Shaun Abreu, a Democrat, called the mystery timeline unacceptable.
“We’re still in the dark as to why this is going to take seven months,” Abreu said. “We need answers now and we need gas now.”
He said he learned about the outage from a friend of a tenant and wondered why NYCHA did not inform him that hundreds of residents could go without gas until well into the summer.
Abreu said the outage is a symptom of decades of disinvestment in the city’s public housing stock by all levels of government. NYCHA lost out on billions in new federal funding when Congress failed to pass a more expansive version of the Build Back Better bill in 2022. At a budget presentation last month, officials said they will be forced to draw down on their dwindling reserves to fill a gaping budget hole.
“We need more infrastructure dollars to go to NYCHA,” Abreu said. “I feel terrible for the families making do with hotplates like they’re on some sort of camping trip instead of an apartment in the middle of Manhattan.”