More than 35,000 NYCHA residents have been left without heat and hot water just three weeks into "heat season."
The Legal Aid Society, which tracked unplanned outages on four separate days since October 1st, when the heat was turned on, says that 35,475 residents had been affected in total.
"This is a terrible start to the heat season, and we fear for vulnerable New Yorkers living public housing—the elderly, disabled, and others—heading into colder weather," Legal Aid Society spokesperson Redmond Haskins told Gothamist in a statement. "NYCHA has a legal and moral obligation to provide these utilities to its residents, and the Authority's continued disregard for the law should alarm us all."
The spotty service comes after a winter in which more than 80 percent of NYCHA residents experienced heat outages between October and late January. Haskins said the latest numbers left the advocacy group "very concerned" about the months ahead.
According to the NY Post, which originally reported the data, NYCHA had maintained that duplicates skewed the numbers. The agency alleged that many of these outages had actually been planned ahead of repairs, and their records pointed to 70 heating and 161 hot water outages at 22 sites.
Haskins, however, sent us a full list of the developments affected, along with the number of individual apartment-dwellers and households that had experienced gaps in their utilities. Haskins assured us that Legal Aid hadn't counted duplicates.
On Wednesday, the City Council held a hearing to address heat and hot water in NYCHA housing. Speaking before the Public Housing Committee, Legal Aid Society attorney Lucy Newman pointed out that—although Mayor Bill de Blasio had earmarked $200 million for boiler replacement and heating system maintenance in public housing after last winter's disaster—residents had not been kept abreast of improvement plans, even as outages persisted. Indeed, Legal Aid's data show that the very same Lower East Side development that de Blasio toured to promote a freshly installed boiler experienced an unplanned outage one day after the visit.
At a press conference convened for his walk-through, de Blasio emphasized that meaningful updates had been made throughout the summer: NYCHA hired 50 new heating technicians; replaced boilers in 12 developments, and sent mobile boilers to six developments; purchased five additional mobile boilers for emergency service; enlisted "outside experts" to monitor and maintain the boilers; fixed windows to better insulate apartments; and implemented a robocall system so that residents can immediately let NYCHA know whether or not a heating repair actually solved their problems.
"We believe in fairness in this administration," de Blasio said at the press conference. "The goal of this term is to become the fairest big city in America. We can't do that if we cannot improve the situation at NYCHA constantly. We believe it is doable. We believe it will take a huge amount of work and we believe it will take real time but we believe we can make life fairer and better for NYCHA residents on a regular basis."
Asked for comment, NYCHA directed us to three-plus hours of footage from Wednesday's City Council hearing. In it, NYCHA's General Manager Vito Mustaciuolo enumerated the improvements NYCHA says it's made over the past few months. "NYCHA remains committed to doing as much as we can with the resources that we have," he said.
Mustaciuolo noted that "last winter presented the longest stretch of below-freezing days the city has experienced in nearly 60 years. The failures in our equipment put a spotlight on the unfortunate reality that we have been discussing for years: That NYCHA's aging infrastructure has been starved of the investment and resources it desperately needs."