Heating Complaints Abound at Public Housing Amid Dangerous Cold

What to Know

  • Residents of dozens of public housing developments across the five boroughs say they lack of heat and hot water amid extreme cold
  • City Comptroller Scott Stringer is launching an audit on NYCHA; he says public housing is plagued by defective boilers
  • Defective boiler rates are 39.5 percent at NYCHA buildings, while the citywide average is 7.9 percent

Residents of dozens of public housing developments across the city have registered complaints about a lack of heat and hot water amid a dangerous stretch of winter cold, prompting the city’s comptroller to launch an audit in response to the “crisis.”

The complaints were registered at 32 New York City Housing Authority developments in all five boroughs over the last several days; 11 of them are in the Bronx; nine are in Manhattan, nine are in Brooklyn, two are in Queens, and one is on Staten Island.

The tri-state has been racked by subzero temperatures for days and wind chills have dropped well below zero. NYCHA residents have said they've been improvising to stay warm, including using space heaters and keeping water boiling on stoves.

On Saturday, city Comptroller Scott Stringer announced he was launching another NYCHA audit to perform “a top-to-bottom review of this crisis.”

“This is a crisis that is manmade. People made this happen. It was not the winds of the climate, it was the fact that government has fallen down. They were warned in 2015, they did nothing,” Stringer said Saturday.

Stringer’s analysis showed the rate of defected boilers within NYCHA are five times the city average. Over the past six months, city data shows 39.5 percent of NYCHA boilers had a defect compared to just 7.9 percent citywide.

This is the comptroller’s ninth audit on NYCHA. “Back in 2015, we warned them that this was happening. We told them they needed to fix these systems. We told them a crisis was coming, and they did nothing,” Stringer said.

At a NYCHA building in the Morrisania section of the Bronx on Saturday night, 7-year-old Ethan Almarez and his siblings were in an apartment where there was ice on the inside of the windows. 

"I go under the blanket, and then sometimes I go in front of the heater," Almarez said.

Heidy Morales is finding alternative ways to heat her home. She uses a heating light to keep the children warm. She says it has cost her $600 to power the light for the past two months and that she has to wake up every few hours each night because she fears the light may catch fire. 

Employees from the Office of Emergency Management knocked on every door of the building Saturday to offer residents a free bus ride to a nearby shelter to stay warm for the night. Brett Asher was among those knocking on doors. 

"I feel bad for them. I wouldn't want to be out of heat, that's for sure. And to have to go somewhere else, that's not comfortable," Asher said. 

NYCHA says they'll be doing piping work until Sunday to get the heat and hot water back on. 

In a statement responding to the audit on Saturday, NYCHA spokesperson Jasmine Blake said the authority would cooperate fully with the comptroller.

“Our staff is working 24/7 to combat this extraordinary cold spell that has battered the city. This weekend we are focused on ensuring heat is on in all NYCHA developments,” Blake said.

NYCHA says the most critical issue facing its heating operations is its aging infrastructure. Of NYCHA’s $17 billion in capital need, $2 billion is needed just to repair the most critical boilers.

Over the past two years, NYCHA’s Heating Department has undertaken a preventative maintenance program during the summer months to minimize outages and issues during high-pressure times, like the current stretch of extreme cold.

Read the comptroller's letter to NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye.

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