With the help of South Brooklyn Legal Services, nine tenants filed a group lawsuit against NYCHA to force repairs in three Brooklyn NYCHA properties – the Farragut, Whitman and Ingersoll houses.
The tenants argue the housing authority often makes them wait months and sometimes years to have repairs such as mold, leaks, disintegrating plaster, faulty electrical outlets and unsecured front doors fixed.
They were joined at a rally last week by elected officials and Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) to announce the lawsuit.
“For 23 years I've put in complaint after complaint to Housing regarding the water that's seeping up through my floor every time we have a hard rain," said Sharon Davis-Knight, a Farragut Houses resident, FUREE member and plaintiff in the case. "They have yet to do something about it.
“Now there is mold growing in my bathroom and since May of 2010 I've put in complaints with housing to clean this," she added. "As of yet no one has come to clean the mold out of my bathroom.”
As she stood with other tenants in front of Brooklyn Housing Court in Downtown Brooklyn, Davis-Knight said she developed a respiratory infection because of the mold and is worried that the conditions are beginning to affect her 21-year-old son.
“I am sick and tired of living this way," she said. "I have to live with my windows open in the winter because of the smell that's coming from the mildew.”
Cynthia Morgan, another resident of Farragut Houses as well as a plaintiff, said that after a fire in her apartment in 2011, firefighters had to remove her kitchen sink and cabinets because of damage. When she called NYCHA to complete the repairs, the authority said that someone would come to the apartment on December 26, 2012.
“By then I will have lived with boarded up windows for more than a year,” she said.
Brent Meltzer, housing unit co-director at South Brooklyn Legal Services, said the litigation calls for NYCHA to live up to their end of the bargain.
“It's a reminder to NYCHA that their job is to provide safe and affordable housing to our most needy residents of New York and they're not doing that right now,” he said. “What message does it send when a city agency is acting like a slumlord? Hopefully this lawsuit will get needed repairs not only for our litigants, but for all the tenants across the city.”
Normally, emergency repairs are supposed to be carried out by NYCHA within 24 hours. And non emergency repairs should take anywhere from two weeks to 90 days to fix.
When reached, NYCHA declined to comment on pending litigation, but said in a statement that they “understand and respect our residents’ frustration over the current backlog of repair and maintenance work.”
“We have staff on site at each of these developments assessing some of the units in need of repairs, and will try to resolve outstanding issues as soon as possible,” said a NYCHA spokesperson.
The agency said it works “unceasingly to address all requests for repair and maintenance at our 2,604 buildings, but the reality is that buildings are 40 to 70 years old with aging structures which require a great deal of repair, for which the Authority receives inadequate funding.”
To tackle the repair backlog head-on, NYCHA launched a task force last June, assembling a team of skilled workers to help reduce significant repair backlogs and wait times. Because of this effort, there were approximately 90,000 more repair work orders completed in 2011 than in 2010, a six percent increase.
But tenants and local leaders are not satisfied.
“I get calls from NYCHA residents on a weekly basis that they've been informed of 18-24 months plus wait time to have basic, essential repairs taken care of,” said District Leader Lincoln Restler, who has six housing developments in his district. “Each and every one of them needs their roofs repaired. There are leaks in every building.”
The NYCHA spokesperson said that addressing all high-priority and emergency work orders would require approximately $3,000 per unit, or a half-billion dollars system-wide, and these repairs would only fulfill interim needs.
NYCHA would need an additional $13 billion in capital through 2015 to address structural improvements and repairs to building operating systems, elevators, roof repairs and brick-work.
A Memorandum of Understanding between NYCHA and the NYPD requires NYCHA to pay approximately $70 million annually to the NYPD for services to their developments. Some residents say that money should go toward training and hiring unemployed residents to carry out repairs.
Last month, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced that NYCHA will receive $10 million from the City Council to help fund repairs and hire public housing residents to perform those repairs.
With $10 million in funding from the City Council, the spokesperson said NYCHA anticipates filling an additional 116,000 work orders annually – reducing approximately 12 percent of the repair work orders in the backlog, while simultaneously creating jobs for 176 NYCHA residents.
The spokesperson also said NYCHA has allocated $11 million to reduce the number of appointments in the backlog by the end of 2012.