After years of chronic heat and hot water outages endured by tens of thousands of public housing residents, the New York City Housing Authority has issued a so-called "heat action plan" that establishes a protocol for the agency to respond to those and other emergencies as well as to perform assessments of poor performing complexes, the 20 worst of which are named in the report.
Among the strategies the plan lays out is a "daily Heat Call" during the cold weather season for NYCHA administrators to go over current outages. All public housing tenants affected by an unplanned heat outage are to be notified within two hours by robocalls, or through additional outreach in the case of elderly and disabled tenants.
“Every NYCHA resident is entitled to heat and hot water and this Heat Action Plan will help ensure that happens at every development. The plan provides concrete steps for how NYCHA will respond to and fix heat outages and prevent additional ones,” said Bart Schwartz, the federal monitor assigned to supervise NYCHA following a federal investigation that found mismanagement, in a statement. “It aims to minimize the length of an outage, increase maintenance and the repair of boilers and to provide adequate alternative heated spaces and warming centers.”
The 35-page plan drew a rare albeit qualified word of praise from housing advocates.
"It's encouraging that NYCHA finally implemented procedures to better address heat and hot water outages, but for many residents, this is a day late and a dollar short," said Lucy Newman, a staff attorney at The Legal Aid Society. "These procedures should have been in place decades ago. Regardless, we hope that NYCHA implements the procedures properly and we will hold them to account if they do not."
Legal Aid, which has been regularly monitoring heat and hot water outages at NYCHA complexes, has repeatedly called on the city and state to fast-track funding to help with NYCHA's aging and crumbling infrastructure. The federal monitor, who produced the action plan, is expected to oversee the spending of $450 million in new state funding, most of which has been set aside for upgrading 108 aging boilers and heating plants as well for new elevators. But one of the problems with new boilers is that they typically take three to four years to install. According to the report, NYCHA currently has 62 mobile boilers, with plans to add six more.
The current season has gotten off to a troubling start. During one week in November, nearly 23,000 public housing tenants experienced a heat or hot water outage at some point, according to a count tallied by Gothamist and Legal Aid. They included 2,440 tenants in NYCHA's Pelham Parkway development in the Bronx who lost heat on a day when wind chill temperatures fell into the 20s. Although NYCHA reported that the problem was resolved within a few hours, tenants in at least one building told Gothamist they were still without heat 24 hours later. Among those affected were the roughly 60 students of a pre-K housed in one of the NYCHA buildings.
The new heat action plan requires NYCHA to restore heat at its properties within an average time of 12 hours. When that fails to happen, officials are required to undertake an investigation of the root cause of the outage.
During the 2017-2018 season, the average time it took NYCHA to restore heat was 30 hours. Over the last year, it was an average of 8 hours, according to the report.
NYCHA has been compiling data on heat outage responses for every one of the 334 NYCHA developments, starting with the top 20 worst performing developments which were cited in the report and are required to have their own individual heat action plans.
The Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side, which has 2,194 apartments, had the most outages over the last year, a total of 78. The second worst was the 1,497-unit complex in the Bronx called the Sotomayor Houses, which had 66 outages.
“The long-term plans and resident-focused protocols we have created, and have already implemented, are bringing results to NYCHA developments," said Greg Russ, NYCHA's CEO, in the press release. "We are committed to strengthening this work throughout the season and every day moving forward."