For Jacqueline Pacheco, the timing of two flooding issues at her home in NYCHA's Grant Houses in Harlem couldn't have come at a worse time. As cases of coronavirus were spreading throughout the city, water from an adjacent apartment flooded her building's floor. Days later, a fire broke out in her building, resulting in a second round of water damage when firefighters doused the flames.
"I had to sweep up water," said Pacheco, 32, who lives with her husband and three children in a cramped two-bedroom apartment. "It was a disaster."
Even before the two floods, her leaky kitchen sink was breeding cockroaches in her cabinets. In March, NYCHA workers came and removed the cabinets for replacement, but left her walls bare. A January housing court stipulation required NYCHA to make various repairs, including the kitchen, but the housing authority has suspended all work orders due to the pandemic.
"The state of emergency came in—all work orders had been paused—and my cabinets were left in the air. I would say around March 3rd they came, took the cabinets out, plastered the wall, left, never came back," Pacheco said, calling it a "nightmare."
For a few days during the pandemic, she didn't have a kitchen sink and her bathroom sink wasn't draining properly—forcing her to do dishes in the bathtub. She fixed her bathroom sink herself after purchasing out-of-pocket tools after NYCHA workers showed up without masks and gloves to do the job in late March.
"I expressed concerns. 'Hey, how are we supposed to wash our hands? This is something that the CDC is saying is a main concern,'" she recalled.
Workers installed a temporary plastic sink, but without counter space and cabinets and the floors uncovered, cooking in the time of quarantine is difficult.
Pacheco has lost her income as a house cleaner due to the virus, and her husband has lost his job as an office maintenance worker. She fears that her family may be living this way for months.
"The source of it is that housing tends to put a bandaid over certain things that they should fix the right way. Once that bandaid is no longer good, they put another bandaid."
Under NYCHA's COVID-19 response plan, emergency repairs are permitted, such as flooding conditions and a list of other various conditions like electricity issues or vermin infestations.
Pacheco had some emergency repairs done prior to the pandemic, NYCHA spokesperson Rochel Leah Goldblatt said in an email after publication of this article.
"Follow-up work, including cabinet installation, was scheduled but due to the outbreak has been postponed because it is not considered emergency work," Goldblatt said.
Only cabinets falling off the walls is considered emergency work—not installation of cabinets, which Pacheco says were removed by NYCHA workers due to leaks.
"The resident was issued a temporary sink and work will commence once it is safe to do so," Goldblatt said.
Public housing residents have long-faced previously existing issues with housing—from heat outages to lack of cooking gas. As of May 18th, 44 buildings were dealing with some level of gas outages, which are known to take months to resolve.
At the end of 2019, the de Blasio administration estimated that repairing and maintaining NYCHA over the next decade could cost as much as $68.5 billion by 2028—or around $120,000 for every one of NYCHA's 564,000 residents.
NYC neighborhoods with NYCHA buildings had a 30 percent higher rate of hospitalizations for the virus than the rest of the city, according to an analysis of state data by the news outlet, THE CITY. The data, which was from May 2nd to May 5th, found two zipcodes covering East Harlem—where 30,000 NYCHA residents live—had six times the hospitalizations of two zipcodes in the Upper East Side.
For Kenyatta Williams, Tompkins Houses resident in Bed-Stuy, her asthma landed her in the hospital for more than a week after an asthma attack she had while working as a security guard at a Brooklyn hospital.
She has tested negative for the coronavirus, but has been diagnosed with pneumonia, she said. On Monday, Williams was still in the hospital for what she said was suspected COVID-19.
Mold stains, water stains, and bubbled-up plaster are in various rooms on-and-off for 3.5 years in her two-bedroom apartment, where she lives with her daughter and 10-month-old grandson.
"There are times when you can hear the water raining down inside the walls," Williams told Gothamist from her hospital bed.
"It's like a musty, old damp basement," she said of the smell. "It's one of those old creepy basements that you don't want to go into as a kid."
She's tried to relocate to a different apartment three times due to overcrowding. Her son has been housed at a hospital for months because without a separate bedroom, sleeping in the living room had exacerbated his autism, Williams said.
In late March, workers arrived twice to assess damaged walls but weren't wearing masks, so Williams didn't feel comfortable allowing them inside, she said.
"I refused. They're not wearing masks like they should, you know what I'm saying? I don't know who's sick, who has been sick, who has it, who don't have it," Williams said.
A day after Gothamist requested comment from NYCHA, Williams said workers arrived to assess damage twice, but since she's still in the hospital, she was not able to allow them inside.
"I'm scared to go back to my apartment because I don't want to start my asthma back up again. This whole coronavirus thing makes me feel like they might not get to anything that's going on in my apartment until next year," she said. "We wanna live decently, despite how poor we are. We don't deserve to be treated like this."
NYCHA rep Goldblatt said Williams "is unable to let our staff into her apartment for repairs at this time."
"NYCHA will be happy to schedule repairs when she is available," Goldblatt said. She added that staff has been following city, state, and federal guidance regarding personal protective equipment in response to a question about why repair workers weren't wearing masks when asked to enter residents' homes.
This article has been updated with comment from NYCHA.