Tenants at two adjacent public housing complexes on the Upper East Side plan to file two separate lawsuits against the New York City Housing Authority for the agency's alleged chronic failure to provide a host of basic services, from hot water and sanitation to working elevators.
The petitions, which will be filed on Friday afternoon in Manhattan Housing Court, come on the heels of a growing legal campaign to hold the beleaguered agency accountable for the living conditions of some 400,000 tenants that reside in public housing. On Thursday, another group of residents sued in federal court, charging that NYCHA violated federal law by overcharging thousands of renters for at least a decade. Last year, the Legal Aid Society filed a class action lawsuit in state Supreme Court demanding rent abatements totaling up to $15 million for NYCHA tenants who experienced heat outages during the cold weather season. Although a judge dismissed that case in February, Legal Aid has appealed the decision.
The latest case comes from tenants at the Holmes Towers and Stanley M. Issacs Houses, located at 92nd Street and First Avenue. The two neighboring complexes have more than 1,100 units. Most recently, the development was targeted for a mixed-income tower under a plan to work with private developers on infill projects to generate much-needed money for capital improvements. In June, following protests from residents and a lawsuit, NYCHA dropped the plan.
"This is the result of tenants who are organizing and working together," said Michael Leonard, an attorney at TakeRoot Justice, a legal advocacy group who is representing 31 tenants in the two lawsuits.
La Keesha Taylor, a resident at the Holmes Towers, located at 92nd Street and First Avenue, cited problems with the building's elevators as especially disturbing given a raft of accidents, including three fatalities since 2013 in NYCHA buildings.
"It’s a constant fear of what’s going to happen," she said.
Taylor said she recently shot a video of the elevator malfunctioning, which was posted in a tweet by the Holmes-Isaacs Coalition, a tenants group.
"Why do we have to get to the point where we are suing you in order for you to do the right thing?" Taylor added. "These are common things that people deserve."
According to the lawsuits, in a recent set of inspections, the two buildings "received the lowest score for overall maintenance in the entirety of the NYCHA system."
A spokesperson for NYCHA declined to comment, saying the lawsuit had not yet been served.
Saundrea Coleman, a tenant at the Stanley M. Issacs Houses, said that among other problems like leaks, mold and hot water outages, the tenants at her complex have been dealing with a severe rat infestation that began following construction in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
She said the rats have been seen crawling on terraces. "People don’t realize that rodents can climb the bricks," she said. "I instruct tenants to leave windows closed."
A retired NYPD employee, she said she lived in Holmes for more than 20 years before moving to the neighboring Isaacs Houses in 2015.
Taylor, 46, who grew up at Holmes, has witnessed the decline of life in public housing, where personal interactions with superintendents have been replaced with an agency-directed complaint system.
"Back in the day, you went downstairs and you looked your super in the eye and you knew he was going to do it," she said. Now, she added, "It's just a black hole."
Following a federal investigation that found mismanagement, NYCHA was put under the supervision of a federal monitor earlier this year. But amid years of federal disinvestment, changes have been slow. Last week, the federal monitor issued a heat action plan that established a protocol for the agency to respond to such emergencies.
"We don’t understand why they can’t get it together," Taylor said. "A crisis should not last so long."