The New York City Housing Authority took an average of 49 days to resolve tenants’ non-emergency repair requests, two-and-a-half times longer than in 2019, according to the Mayor’s Management Report, the city’s annual report card on how its agencies are performing.
But that only counts requests closed within that year and not the tens of thousands that were still open.
In fact, NYCHA’s own internal data shows that in the last year, it has actually taken an average of 310 days to resolve an open non-emergency repair request — six times longer than what the MMR claimed and twenty times the 15-day turnaround goal the housing authority has set for itself for less complex repairs.
And that’s with NYCHA tradespeople doing the work. When the housing authority relies on outside vendors, the average repair time stretches to 500 days.
As the delays pile up, so do requests for more repairs. NYCHA reported 646,990 open work tickets at the end of August — a record high and a 36% increase from the 475,000 open requests at the end of 2020.
At the East River Houses in East Harlem, for example, the number of unresolved repair requests is up 40% over the last year, to 5,220 this August from 4,370 last August.
‘They Didn’t Want To Do Nothing’
One of those open tickets — not yet in the MMR tally because it counts closed tickets — belongs to East River Houses tenant Stephanie Pagan, whose apartment was overtaken last year by mold, plumbing and electrical problems that have made it difficult for her to eat or breathe — due to her asthma — in the apartment she’s lived in for the last 11 years.
“All of these food stamps that I can’t use because I can’t put food in the refrigerator,” said Pagan, showing THE CITY the brown mold that dominates her kitchen.
Pagan works as an assistant to the property manager at Plymouth Church and Plymouth Church School in Brooklyn Heights, but comes home to a deteriorating space out of her control. She suspects some of the damage is due to a leak that sprung last year two floors above her — in the apartment of a tenant who died earlier this year.
“I need help. Plumbing, electrical, mold — you name it, I have pretty much everything,” Pagan told THE CITY. “I was calling the fire department and maintenance people to come look at my leaks to fix it and they would come, no problem. But it was like, how many times I’m gonna have the same leak in the bathroom?”
Pagan was calling the fire department, she explained, because “the outage box was making sizzling sounds because there is water leakage in the wall coming from above.” The firefighters had to “go knock on each door” to check for children or “anyone on respiration” living there, she said, because of the danger.
Meantime, the problems in her apartment only got worse. “The electrician will be like ‘I can’t touch the wires because they’re wet.’ The plumber is like ‘I can’t do my job because the water is still going,’” said Pagan. “And then they will just cancel. They won’t even show up. They would just cancel it. They didn’t want to do nothing. They just closed out my ticket.”
Those issues are being worked on now, NYCHA Spokesperson Rochel Leah Goldblatt told THE CITY. “There was a ruptured pipe on the sixth floor and repairs were made in mid-September. Plasterers and painters are scheduled for this week and early next week to make repairs on the fifth floor and will assess and schedule repairs on the lower floors based on resident availability.”
The apartment with the leak has been padlocked since its tenant died. Pagan said that person wasn’t found for a week or so.
“You smell that?” Pagan said of the pungent stench while walking from her fourth to the sixth floor.
“She was a hoarder,” she continued. “The brown liquid that leaks through my pipes comes from this apartment.”
That issue, too, is being dealt with now, according to NYCHA. “The leak in apartment 6B was abated upon discovery of the deceased in May, but the apartment was immediately padlocked by the public administrator and substantive repairs could not be made until October 3rd,” said Goldblatt, the NYCHA spokesperson. “The apartment has been completely cleared out and has received extreme cleaning services provided by a specialized vendor. Additional cleaning services are scheduled until it is fully sanitized.”
While THE CITY spoke with Pagan last week, a pair of inspectors showed up to assess the apartment, take pictures and listen to Pagan’s complaints. After about 10 minutes, they realized there was a reporter there, and left and told Pagan to speak to the building manager.
Prior to that, they’d told Pagan that her apartment needed significant work and offered to transfer her to an apartment in another public housing project while that was done.
But that’s a non-starter, said Pagan, who wondered if the work could have been less intrusive if the damage had been dealt with months earlier.
“The water leak, it’s been going on for over a year,” said Pagan. “Last year, I had to take off so many days because they broke down the wall between the kitchen and the bathroom and this is the same wall that they’re still fixing.”
“I don’t want to move. My family’s here. I lived here for 11 years,” she said. “But I don’t want to live here while they’re fixing all of this.”
So Much for ‘Lead Free’
Systemwide, NYCHA has blamed the number of repairs and the lengthening times for them on the pause to repair work that was instituted as part of the city’s effort to stem the spread of COVID-19 and the overall deteriorating state of their aging portfolio. Most of the authority’s 320 developments were built in the 1950s and 1960s, and some date to the 1930s.
All of this is unfolding despite unprecedented oversight of the troubled agency, which resulted from a 2019 agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development that brought in a federal monitor to get things back on track.
The agreement followed a devastating investigation by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney that found NYCHA management had covered up and lied about scandalous conditions in its 175,000 apartments for years.
Under the January 2019 agreement, NYCHA is required to meet specific deadlines for upgrading heating systems and elevators, and addressing the scourge of toxic mold caused by longstanding water leaks in aging pipes.
The agreement also requires NYCHA to remove lead paint, which is clearly pervasive inside East River Houses apartments. Since NYCHA began retesting developments that had been previously declared “lead free,” 470 of the 533 units tested there, or 88%, have registered the presence of lead paint — including Pagan’s apartment.