Lorraine Echavarry hasn’t taken a hot shower in over two months.
With no hot water flowing into her apartment bathroom, the 68-year-old Bronx resident has two options when it comes to bathing: an ice-cold shower or the kitchen sink.
“I get up at all hours of the night to see if by any chance I can get some hot water,” she told THE CITY. “I can’t take a shower because that water is freezing.”
She’s among the tenants of 153 apartments in the Marble Hill Houses’ Building 4 at 2811 Exterior St. who have been without hot water in their bathrooms since mid-October.
The outage, which threatens to extend well into winter as the pandemic keeps many tenants all-but homebound, impacts residents who live in the NYCHA building’s so-called E-line and F-line units.
“It’s been one thing after another,” said Bronx Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-The Bronx), whose office has intervened on tenants’ behalf.
In recent years, heat and hot water outages have proved a winter nightmare for NYCHA tenants across the city. In 2018, four out of five public housing residents experienced heat loss.
In at least 25 city public housing developments, aging and ailing boilers are to blame for the frequent service disruptions — and relief for many tenants is still a couple winters away. New boilers, budgeted as far back as 2016 for the Marble Hill Houses and other complexes, aren’t scheduled to come online until 2023, THE CITY reported in November.
The authority has also struggled in responding to apartment-specific heating complaints, according to an audit released in May by Comptroller Scott Stringer. There’s no adequate system in place to track the resolution of such complaints, he found.
As of Wednesday, 22 developments across the NYCHA system had been dealing with heat and hot water outages this week, according to the authority’s service interruptions portal. NYCHA said it had addressed 19 cases, with three outstanding. Marble Hill was not included on that list.
‘It’s The Same Problem’
Echavarry knows the Marble Hill Houses — and their shortcomings — well. She’s lived there for nearly 50 years.
Almost every morning during colder months, she logs a complaint online on the NYCHA portal — a routine she said she’s become accustomed to over the past two years amid recurring hot water outages.
“I never bother housing for anything, but I don’t know what’s happening,” said Echavarry, adding that building managers told her they were ordering a part to fix the problem after she reached out after the problem first began. “But why don’t they do these things in the summer? Why do they have to wait until the winter?”
Just a story higher on the fourth floor, Adelaida Marrero is also fed up with the lack of hot water. She’s said she’s logged more than 30 online complaint tickets documenting the issue.
Lately, the 75-year-old woman has resorted to trekking straight to NYCHA’s Marble Hill office — on the opposite side of the development — for answers. Five in-person office visits later, hot water has yet to be restored to the F or E Line.
“Last year, it was the same situation and I opened my mouth for eight months last year,” Marrero told THE CITY. “But they don’t fix the problem. It’s the same problem.”
In December, Marrero and other Marble Hill Houses tenants notified Dinowitz’s office of the extended hot water outages along the E and F lines.
Dinowitz’s team contacted NYCHA on Dec. 17, but hasn’t not received any information regarding when the hot water will be restored, nor a clear description of the heat problem itself.
“I can tell you that in my building, if we had a situation like that, it would be handled almost immediately and that’s probably true for most people,” Dinowitz said. “So why should it be any different for the people who live in NYCHA buildings? They deserve the same services that other people get.”
Similar to Echavarry, Marrero’s shower routine requires multiple trips to the kitchen where she collects the hot water in pans and buckets to clean herself. Washing her hair in the kitchen sink, though, is out of the question.
“That’s nasty,” she said. “I have to pay to wash my hair in the salon.”
Both Marrero and Echavarry worry about other senior residents like themselves, many of whom suffer from arthritis, asthma and other ailments.
“I have to get up and rinse my mouth in the kitchen,” said Echavarry, who is asthmatic. “It’s terrible. It’s always cold water, cold water, cold water.”
A NYCHA spokesperson said the housing agency is addressing the problem at the Marble Hill Houses.
“NYCHA staff is looking into this issue and has found multiple cross connection issues where cold water is mixing with the hot water causing temperature fluctuations in various apartment lines,” said the spokesperson, Rochel Leah Goldblatt. “Our Heating and Maintenance Department is working with property management to identify and correct the cross connections.”
She did not address why the heat and hot water hadn’t been fixed in two years.