Despite residents’ protests temporary NYCHA boilers to remain

March 6, 2014 Heather Chin
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Temporary boilers installed in city housing complexes after Superstorm Sandy will be staying there for at least another two heating seasons—through 2015—despite community concerns about inefficiency and flat-out lack of functionality.

That is according to representatives from the city Housing Authority (NYCHA), who joined Sandy-stricken residents to testify at a public hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Public Housing (CPH) and Committee on Resiliency and Recovery (CRR), held on Thursday, February 27 in Coney Island’s Carey Gardens Community Center.

The hearing, held for the first time outside of Manhattan in one of the neighborhoods actually impacted by the issues up for discussion, was a chance for NYCHA residents to testify about their post-Sandy experiences over the past year in alternately too-cold and too-hot conditions, what kind of response they have received from NYCHA, and what they hope/want/need to see from them and city officials going forward.

“One day, when it was around five degrees, the boilers went down, so I called NYCHA’s emergency line and they said someone would come soon,” said Ilma Joyner, a retired electrician and president of the O’Dwyer Houses Resident Association in Coney Island. “I looked at the boiler [and] saw the compressor was broken and the lines were frozen. The labels clearly stated that the lines wouldn’t work below 45 degrees. If you knew these boilers don’t work in winter, why are they still here?”

The problem of broken boilers, which reportedly stop working for days and weeks at a time in the winter, has been an issue even before Sandy hit, Joyner noted, but it’s just gotten worse. Stories like hers were at the crux of resident testimony during the hearing, where the news that they would remain was met with groans and cries of protest.

“How much did NYCHA pay for these boilers? Did they know they couldn’t take the lower temperatures?” asked Shirley Nathans, president of the Carey Gardens Tenant Association. “NYCHA says we complain if it’s cold and if it’s hot. Yes, we complain! We want hot water, not back-and-forth.”

City officials also sought to make the most of the hearing in order to get answers on how to proceed.

After the storm, “NYCHA relied on temporary electrical generators and temporary mobile boilers to provide power, heat and hot water to many of their buildings. The temporary generators are gone, but the temporary boilers remain,” said Councilmember Ritchie Torres, CPH chair. “What we want to know is why?”

“’Temporary’ is not specific, but one-and-a-half years is too long,” added CRR Chairperson Councilmember Mark Treyger of Gravesend, Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Seagate and Sheepshead Bay. “I understand that getting funding is complicated, but that can’t be an ongoing excuse. We have to rebuild.”

According to NYCHA, 24 temporary boilers and two mobile boilers are in place at housing complexes throughout the city and their “commitment is to doing what’s most resilient, not what’s most convenient,” said the NYCHA representatives, who also maintained that the temporary boilers “are just as effective at producing steam heat and serving the needs of the community.”

NYCHA also stated that although they “have a very clear plan to replace [them] in a smart, safe, responsible way, we are a long way from our goal,” due to lack of adequate funding from insurance companies, FEMA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—which reportedly refuse to pay for replacements, only want to pay for repairs, and/or have delayed funding pending public comment periods.

To that end, Treyger and Torres vowed to utilize city and state resources to try and get these funding streams moving.

After the hearing, Joyner said she was optimistic. “I was optimistic when I heard about [the hearing] and think we’re moving forward. We’re going to get a lot done and this is the start of something great,” she said. “On issues like this, hopefully we’ll work together. We want to partner with NYCHA [to get things done].”

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