While the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in places like Belle Harbor and Breezy Point has been well-documented, the storm's profound and lasting impact on residents of NYC public housing is no less shocking. Almost 80,000 residents of public housing lost power because of Sandy, and yesterday the mayor announced that approximately 13,000 residents are still without electricity, many of them elderly or infirm and unable to leave their darkened buildings through pitch-black stairwells.
In addition, the city says 77,000 residents of public housing lost heat and hot water because of the hurricane, and as of yesterday 22,000 residents were still without heat and hot water. As the recovery drags on, the NYC Housing Authority has been increasingly criticized for its handling of the hurricane response. On Tuesday, for instance, Con Ed was ready to restore power to three buildings in the Gowanus Houses, but the job was stalled because a NYCHA contractor had not showed up to repair the damaged electrical system.
“The level of dysfunction and apathy from NYCHA to the tenants of NYCHA is shocking,” Brooklyn City Councilman Stephen Levin told the Daily News after futilely trying to get NYCHA to fix the electrical system at the Gowanus Houses. “I can’t get an answer for the last three and a half hours. I get responses like, ‘We’re trying.’ ” Eric Moed, a volunteer with Occupy Sandy, tells us he's been unable to sleep after what he witnessed at the NYCHA on Coney Island. He writes:
There are elderly people stuck on the top floors of pitch-black buildings with NO FOOD AND WATER. Families with no food to feed their children. Mothers with no baby formula or wipes. Diabetics and asthmatics with no medicine. THERE HAS BEEN NO POWER, HEAT OR WATER FOR OVER A WEEK AND A HALF. Next to no one has flashlights and/or batteries. My small crew of volunteers PERSONALLY gave out these goods to the above people in need and encouraged them with what little info and energy we had.
All of the supermarkets and bodegas within a 15 minute walk of the above Housing have been flooded or looted. THERE IS NOWHERE TO BUY FOOD. The NYCHA residents I have personally dealt with are incredible women. They are, however, spread thin and have no-one to help them answer to the thousands of residents that they represent.
Starting this morning, the city is deploying ambulances to Far Rockaway and Coney Island with a team consisting of a paramedic and member of the National Guard. Health Department staff, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), FEMA and the National Guard will be going door-to-door to "conduct medical assessments and provide assistance to residents in high-rise buildings who may be in need." According to an announcement from Mayor Bloomberg:
The teams will go door-to-door in tall residential buildings from 8 AM to 8 PM to visit residents to make sure that their medical needs are being met, conduct a medical assessment to determine if residents are safe, and connect residents to prescription medications. If the paramedic determines that a resident has immediate acute medical needs, the resident will be taken to a field clinic or a hospital for additional care. The teams will be focused on assessing the well being of residents who have not been able to leave their apartments and who may have been without water, electricity and heat.
For public housing residents on Coney Island, who've lived without electricity, heat, or hot water for almost two weeks now, the news is long overdue. “Three days ago, they told us the lights would be back on,” Adela Ramos, 64, tells the News, and he's not optimistic about things returning to normal any time soon. Neither is the city—Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday that heat would not be restored at all the NYCHA buildings until sometime next week.