The Honorable Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez
Southwest Brooklyn Office
16 Court St. Suite 1006
Brooklyn, NY 11241
January 23, 2018
Dear Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez:
Thank you for making Melissa de Valle Ortiz and Dan Wiley of your staff available to assist Gowanus Houses, Warren Street Houses, Wyckoff Gardens and Red Hook East and West Houses.
We appreciate the community engagement and attention they give to us and the exchange of information and assistance over the years you have provided as our Representative. We thank you for your support and continued staff collaboration on the many environmental and housing issues that face our local public housing communities. However, we write to you because we believe it is unjust for Federal, State and City agencies to continually operate Public Housing outside of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Code Enforcement rules and regulations in regards to repairs, mold and lead remediation. We also wish to address the need for improved emergency response protocols when buildings experience system failures, such as earlier this month when boilers and heating systems failed in Red Hook and Gowanus.
We also believe it is equally important to include other public agencies and private investment commitments for local public housing outside of currently planned projects designed to bring improvements to the quality of life in local public housing developments, since there also continues to be compounded urgency and additional repairs needed, and crisis after crisis (the most recent being the heat and water outages and lead investigations.) In response, Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC) has formed two community collaborative endeavors to work with local public housing residents to advocate for environmental and housing justice in Southwest Brooklyn, namely Turning the Tide (T3) and the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice (GNCJ).
As part of the GNCJ priorities, our platform seeks the protection, connection and preservation of local public housing, and its residents in regards to the anticipated upcoming rezoning of the Gowanus neighborhood. We submit this letter on behalf of this Coalition, comprised of many local public housing residents from Gowanus Houses, Wyckoff Gardens and Warren Street Houses, to ask that you please address our concerns as you work to address our nation’s many problems and that you be our voice when meeting with the Chair of the New York City Housing Authority.
We also extend an invitation for you and the Chair to come and hear recommendations through our GNCJ or Turning the Tide groups about how to advance equity locally in Gowanus.
Thank you in advance and in solidarity,
Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice
Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice (GNCJ) was founded on the following platform principles. (See attached platform principles and Survive and Thrive)
Our second platform principle is regarding Public Housing and its residents in Gowanus Houses, Wyckoff Gardens and Warren Street Houses. Our principles include respecting, protecting and connecting Public Housing and its residents to
2.1 ensure people of all racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds – including public housing residents – shape and benefit from the rezoning process.
2.2 invest in NYCHA to address long-standing repair needs and hazardous conditions,
2.3 enforce Section 3 and local workforce training and hiring to ensure public housing residents see the economic benefit from public and private investments.
As we pursue the fulfillment of our principles, we are learning from residents and staff about the most recent heat & water outages crisis at NYCHA and advocating for public housing residents who make up a great portion of our geographical Gowanus neighborhood.
What We Learned
In the beginning days of the 2017-2018 winter season, residents in public housing developments across the city found themselves without heat or hot water for what has now been recognized as one of the longest cold snaps to hit the city in modern history.
What has become increasingly clear from our interactions with residents of Gowanus Houses is that there have been a number of systemic failures with both communication and infrastructure within the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which has led thousands of tenants over the last three weeks to suffer without consistent heat or water.
During the Gowanus Houses Resident Council meeting on January 16th, 2018, residents expressed their frustration with the Manager, who was also in attendance, because many buildings experienced outages and numerous repair tickets filed were subsequently closed with no response from NYCHA or explanation for their removal from system logs.
One of the reasons residents were given about the no heat and no hot water issue was the failure of two of the five boilers that serve the Gowanus Houses development. The fact that these boilers were not working properly was apparently not conveyed to the Manager even though maintenance workers employed by NYCHA had known about this problem days before the cold snap. Some tenants on specific apartment lines said they never get heat, while others complained about way too much heat on average. Either way this is unacceptable and if we are to reach 20/30 or 80/50, these issues will have to be addressed and residents need to live in adequately provided for housing with communications and response protocols enacted when there are such life threatening emergencies as no heat or water in extreme temperature situations.
Below we have listed findings, questions and recommendations from Gowanus Houses residents based on their experiences during the recent heat and water outages:
- Heat technicians are getting improper temperature readings because residents are using personal space heaters, ovens and stovetops to create steam to heat rooms when heat is out. (This also creates excessive moisture and creates and increases mold growth.)
- During the weekend and when there are weather events residents stop calling the central call center number out of frustration. The wait time during the cold snap was over 20 minutes and in some cases if one waited the 20 minutes out, the line automatically disconnected the residents from the call center.
- We recommend a development wide 24 hour number that the tenants can leave a recorded message so the local management can monitor the calls specific to each development.
- The Gowanus Houses rooftop water tank pipes burst around 9 pm during the cold snap and tenants watched water cascading down the stairwells until the pipe was shut off subsequently creating a water outage and forcing the tenants outside in the cold to get water from a truck.
- Temp boilers should be supplied to buildings where heat is out for more than 24 hours.
- Electric space heaters should be supplied to residential units when heat is out for more than 24 hours. Many residents are keeping ovens turned on for warmth and that could lead to gas leaks and fire risks.
- Since these are Sandy impacted FEMA buildings why wasn’t FEMA notified to help with response to the heat and water crisis at these developments?
- We recommend that NYCHA stays abreast of any upcoming weather events and any FEMA designated Sandy Recovery building that is in the weather crosshairs gets a boiler-person on site for the duration of the weather event.
- Residents should be given rent abatements and reimbursement for any water or heater purchases made.
Activating & communication around emergency response protocols for heat & water outages
- Lack of overall communication from NYCHA about crisis; daily updates for each development should be provided when there is an emergency outage.
Only 1 out of the 11 NYCHA Cold Weather Updates sent to community based groups, like the update the Fifth Avenue Committee, received had any development specific details about which developments had outages.
- Lack of communication from NYCHA to and from property managers. We found out many days into the crisis at Gowanus Houses RA meeting on Jan 16th that Gowanus Houses has 5 boilers in 1 boiler-room and two of those boilers have been out for over a week during the cold snap. When there is a building wide outage or multiple unit outages within a building, residents should not be told that the only way to request services is to put in a repair ticket; there must be a difference between repair requests and activating emergency response protocols for water & heat outages during extreme weather / disaster.
- What establishes the need for local warming centers and how are tenants notified?
- 311 protocols must be standardized to accept all complaints from NYCHA residents.
- NYCHA notices need to be provided and assistance given to getting folks to warming centers.
- Vulnerable populations, including, but not limited to seniors & disabled; babies, and residents with special needs, need to be checked on.
- CB6 NYCHA Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) teams should also be developed and activated to assist in emergency response.
- Heating Plant Technicians (HPT) capacity to respond must be improved.
- Provide Technicians with temperature heat guns to quickly measure temps indoors.
- There needs to be at minimum one heating technician supervisor per development. There is severe uneven heat distribution across the buildings. In addition to these above needs and recommendations, we wish to discuss with NYCHA executive staff these outstanding items from previous dialogue:
- Outstanding operating and capital needs at Gowanus Houses, Wyckoff Gardens and Warren Street Houses.
- Updates and communications to tenants on status of FEMA repair work at Gowanus Houses.
- Requesting a South Brooklyn Public Housing Town Hall with local tenant leadership.
- Updates and communications to tenants on status of project at Wyckoff Gardens & progress from Resident Stakeholder Group
- Updates on Moldbusters mold abatement program for Wyckoff Gardens & Warren Street Houses We submit this letter in acknowledgement of your upcoming meeting with NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye, and we hope that you can convey the recommendations that our community and community based groups: FAC, GNCJ, FUREE, Turning The Tide (T3) have shared regarding the needs of local public housing residents. We also would like to invite the NYCHA Chair and other stakeholders to a roundtable discussion regarding these and other issues that have been brought to our attention. It is our goal to assist NYCHA through our continued advocacy in Gowanus and Community Board 6 at large.
Sincerely yours on behalf of the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice,
Michael Higgins Jr.
Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE)
Please direct all responses to this letter to the:
Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice c/o
South Brooklyn Accountable Development Initiative
Fifth Avenue Committee
621 Degraw Street
Brooklyn NY 11217
(718) 237-2017, ext. 117
Hon. Velmanette Montgomery, NYS State Senator, District 25
Hon. Jo Anne Simon, NYS Assemblywoman, District 52
Hon. Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President
Hon. Stephen Levin, NYC Councilmember, CD 33
Hon. Brad Lander, NYC Councilmember, CD 39
Hon. Carlos Menchaca, NYC Councilmember, CD 38
Hon. Alicka Ampry-Samuel, NYC Councilmember CD 41 & Public Housing Committee Chair
Sayar Lonial, Chairperson, Community Board 6
Ariel Krasnow, Housing Committee Chair, Community Board 6
Ed Tyree, President, Gowanus Houses Resident Association
Daniel Abramson, Brooklyn Borough Director, Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit
Jonathan Keller, Senior Planner | Team Leader, Brooklyn Office | NYC Department of City Planning