Additional reporting by Hiram Alejandro Durán
Dozens of families in Brooklyn’s largest public housing complex have been without cooking gas since January — infuriating tenants still dealing with construction to repair damages caused by Superstorm Sandy.
The gas outage at the Red Hook Houses has forced households in 96 apartments, spanning three buildings, to cook on electric hot plates provided by the New York City Housing Authority.
Some apartments have many as eight or nine people, and residents say it’s next to impossible to whip up decent meals for families on the one portable burner.
“It’s aggravating,” said Rhonda Clarke, 59, one of more than 180 tenants without gas. “I want to go back to my shopping again, having my food in my house and preparing my meals.”
In March, more than 40 residents filed a civil lawsuit against NYCHA in Brooklyn Housing Court demanding the housing authority restore gas service, provide rent reductions and reimburse tenants’ legal fees.
Meanwhile an ongoing, $550 million resiliency project to fix the Superstorm Sandy damage to the Red Hook Houses isn’t projected to be completed until 2023, according to NYCHA.
The lawsuit also cites other poor living conditions in the apartments — including mold, peeling paint, broken electrical outlets and rodent and roach infestations.
“The fact that people are living in complete disrepair and lacking essential services, I think we have to come to a place where we just don’t accept this as the status quo, that we really do expect more from NYCHA,” said Kristie Ortiz-Lam of the Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, who is the lead attorney for the tenants.
In a statement to THE CITY, a NYCHA spokesperson said the gas was turned off on Jan. 13 as a safety precaution after a leak was discovered in the three buildings’ shared meter room.
“While we understand gas service interruptions are inconvenient, gas service interruptions and restoration work are a matter of public safety,” said the spokesperson, Nekoro Gomes.
Gomes said NYCHA is working to restore gas service by the third week of April.
“The deteriorating infrastructure at Red Hook Houses and other developments are symptomatic of decades of disinvestment, but the authority is working toward establishing funding sources to address the entire authority and transform NYCHA,” said Gomes.
‘God Forbid You Want a Snack’
Red Hook residents told THE CITY they’ve been forced to spend hundreds of dollars on take-out food, straining already tight budgets amid the pandemic.
“It puts me in a messed up position because I haven’t cooked anything in my crib in like three or four months,” said tenant Michael Santiago, 35. “Guess what? The front store got all my money, Uber Eats and all this extra stuff that I wasn’t even really that comfortable with using, but now I’m forced to use it because I can’t even go to the supermarket and make food.”
The portable stoves also tax residents’ time.
“It’d take like two hours to cook one meal,” Clarke said. “Three meals a day should be like six hours if you’re doing breakfast, lunch and dinner — and then God forbid if you want a little snack in between.”
The outage has even prompted some elderly residents to relocate, Clarke added.
“You got to have the gas,” she said. “You know, and if you’re homebound, you can’t go to the store. You cannot go.”
Not the First Time
Now, many tenants are facing Easter Sunday without gas to cook family dinners.
Santiago said it’s frustrating that even though he’s paying rent, NYCHA is not providing essential services.
“They’re gonna want what they want, so we deserve what we’re owed as well,” he said.
A bill introduced by State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) this year would require NYCHA to reduce the rent of tenants experiencing utility service disruptions. The bill is currently pending in committee.
The housing authority also just informed residents that vendors will begin to inspect gas lines this month, potentially resulting in more outages.
“We expect to complete inspections of about 770 buildings in all five boroughs by the end of June, and will complete inspections of all of our buildings over the next four years,” NYCHA Chair Greg Russ and General Manager Vito Mustaciuolo, wrote in a email to tenants on Thursday.
Santiago believes many people in positions of power don’t appreciate NYCHA residents’ struggle.
“If you can’t relate, then you don’t feel the urgency,” he said.