NYCHA remains on track with its pledge to replace hundreds of boilers that have contributed to vast heating outages over the years, officials told the City Council on Wednesday.
The update from agency officials comes as temperatures are dropping below freezing in the city and its surrounding area — ushering in familiar anxieties among public housing residents who have long been plagued with rampant heating outages.
The agency’s goal is to replace more than 340 boilers by the end of 2026 as part of a broader plan to improve heating conditions in public housing.
“I don’t imagine any time in the near future where we are going to be in a place where we’re going to say, ‘heating is not a challenge for NYCHA,’” said Brian Honan, the agency’s senior vice president for intergovernmental affairs. “It will be because of the aging infrastructure. I think where it is on us — and I think where we’ve made improvements — is the way we manage it, is the way we staff it.”
Joy Sinderbrand, NYCHA’s senior vice president for capital programs, said the agency is looking to address 121 more boilers in 2023. The boiler replacement project planned for the next few years will come to $3.4 billion in combined federal, city and state funding, and span more than 70 NYCHA developments.
But critics said improvements haven’t come quickly enough for residents, who have grappled with heating interruptions among other dire, long-standing problems.
For decades, NYCHA residents have been inundated with safety and quality-of-life issues that ultimately resulted in the appointment of a federal monitor, Bart M. Schwartz, in 2019. Heating outages have become a familiar plight for residents, who have also complained of lags in restoring heat.
City Councilmember Alexa Avilés, who chairs the public housing committee that held a hearing on Wednesday, said median response times to unplanned heating outages have become longer over the last few years, citing NYCHA data.
The median response time had been 8.4 hours in the last heating season, which began in 2021, Avilés said. It had been 7.97 hours for the season that began in 2020, and 7.35 hours in the season that began in 2019.
But officials said response times have improved so far this season, having reduced by 13% compared to the same period last year.
“Obviously, we would all like to sit here and say that there should be no heat outages. We know that’s not possible,” said Keith Grossman, NYCHA’s senior vice president for operations support services. “It’s Murphy's law — things will break. But our goal is to keep well under that 12-hour mark.”
Heating outages are not uncommon at NYCHA developments, even during the winter months. The Bronx River Houses, a NYCHA development housing older people, experienced a heating outage that lasted more than a week last December.
And the Brownsville Houses in Brooklyn saw heat and hot water outages that affected the entire development on Tuesday, according to the agency’s tracker. More than 3,000 residents were affected.
“We’re coming up on January and February, and I’m really concerned if we’re going to do something different than what’s been happening thus far,” said Councilmember Charles Barron, whose district includes East New York and other stretches of eastern Brooklyn.
“I have huge developments,” Barron said, referring to NYCHA residences in his district. “And when you have huge developments — new boilers, you know, have to be connected to a decaying distribution system, and that causes major problems. Something has to be done about that.”