New York Public Housing Leaves Tenants in the Cold: ‘I Haven’t Had Heat for 12 Years’

Newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at his election night party on November 5, 2013 in New York City / Getty Images
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio / Getty Images
December 20, 2018

Public-housing tenants in residences owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) face another winter without heat.

NYCHA’s mismanagement of its properties has led to widespread heating failures, causing health problems and miserable living conditions, according to a New York Times report. New York City requires landlords keep apartments warm, at a minimum of 68 degrees during cold weather. But NYCHA doesn’t have to follow that law, and its tenants mostly can’t afford to go anywhere else.

"Winter is long," said home health aide Evelyn Badia, who lives in the South Bronx. "How am I supposed to tolerate this? Where am I supposed to go? If I could afford it, I would move."

Her 44-year-old husband, Franklin Badia, delivers pizza at night and into the morning, and he lamented having to be in the cold constantly.

"Imagine, I work in the cold all day and then I come home to the same cold," he said.

Around Christmas every year, pre-K teacher Wanda Agee covers her TV in red wrapping paper to resemble a chimney, in a ritual of "wishful thinking."

"I haven’t had heat for 12 years," Agee said. "We’ve been waiting."

NYCHA’s own data shows that 323,098 residents went without heat at some point, which is more than 80 percent. Work orders regularly get closed without anymore showing up to work on the issue at hand, and when they do show up they often don’t do anything to fix the problem.

Agee no longer bothers sending work orders to NYCHA and runs up a high electric bill using space heaters and even turning on her oven, something many other tenants also do. She has attempted to compensate for the building’s poor insulation by using duct tape and trash bags.

"They’re not going to come and fix no pipes," Agee told the Times last week. "I used to turn on my oven for heat and that was sickening. I want to get out of here not because of the neighborhood or the rent. Imagine, to move just because of heat?"

Grace Maldonado, the resident association president for Agee’s building, said the day-to-day upkeep at the project is deplorable.

"They’re aware of these problems," said Maldonado, who has decades of experience as a NYCHA supervisor. "How do you leave these people for years without heat? How can you be so irresponsible and uncaring and get away with it?"

Problems with the buildings stem from failures of the central heating systems that have gone unaddressed for years. Pipes with poor insulation lead to tepid amounts of heat actually coming into apartments.

"If residents are telling you that for the last several years they’ve been experiencing these problems, that’s unacceptable," NYCHA general manager Vito Mustaciuolo told the Times.

"They are my buildings. I’m responsible for them. We will do everything that we can to ensure that the residents get the level of service that they deserve," he added.

Single mother Bran Montano also has high electricity bills for her heaters that she scattered around the apartment, and she hasn’t been able to pay them. The amount of heaters make her worry about a potential fire, and on especially cold days she also boils water to get more heat around her children.

"My kids don’t stop getting sick," Montano said in Spanish.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been in office since 2014 but maintains his administration can turn things around.

"People in public housing deserve the very best living standard we can give them with the money we have," de Blasio said, earlier this year. "Do I think that we in the public sector can achieve everything that a private sector can achieve, with much greater resources in the private sector? No, I don’t have that illusion. Our job is to constantly do better with what we have."