Did NYC Housing Authority blow it? After Sandy mess, City Council holds hearing

January 18, 2013 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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At a New York City Council oversight hearing on Thursday, council members expressed dismay over the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) feeble response to Superstorm Sandy.

“The damage incurred to the City’s public housing as a result of Sandy was far beyond anything we could have possibly imagined,” Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement. The Council examined NYCHA’s lack of communication with public housing residents, inadequate planning for power outages and the seeming non-existence of plans to address the needs of the more vulnerable residents.

Thursday’s hearing found that power outages were particularly hard on older and disabled residents, who were unable to navigate darkened stairwells in high-rise buildings.

Many elderly residents of projects in neighborhoods like Coney Island, Gowanus and Red Hook were stuck in their high rise apartments for a more than a week, living off of food, medicine, flashlights and batteries donated by volunteers from local community groups and Occupy Sandy.

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NYCHA did not perform a door-to-door check at the Red Hook project until 15 days after Sandy struck, according to published reports. More than 100 trapped residents were found to be in need of medical care.

Council members learned that NYCHA never plugged into neighborhoods’ existing community organizations, even though these groups almost immediately came together to help housing tenants after the storm.

Some of the problems could have been avoided with better management, the Council said. “Had NYCHA arranged for temporary generators and boilers to be in place ahead of time, instead of scrambling to secure transport and set up equipment after the storm, power could have been restored to residents sooner,” Speaker Quinn said in a release.

NYCHA’s Employee Bulletin has a different take on the agency’s planning and response. “Well before the hurricane struck, NYCHA’s emergency response sprung into action,” the agency writes. “Staff was mobilized” and workers “consulted lists of residents with special needs.

“NYCHA engineers assessed building structures and staff secured scaffolding and equipment,” NYCHA says. “Hundreds of boilers were shut down to protect them from flood damage and almost 400 elevators were shut down to ensure that residents would not be trapped during a power interruption.”

Thursday’s hearing was one of about a dozen planned to examine the city’s storm preparedness and emergency response.

On Wednesday the Council examined issues including the city’s overwhelmed 911/ 311 systems and the coordination of OEM with city agencies and volunteers.

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