The anger was palpable as Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus (D-Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Bay Ridge) and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) tenants from the Coney Island Houses, 3020 Surf Avenu, gathered outside the development this week to decry NYCHA’s response to over 110 families having to cook on hotplates for over a month due to a gas outage.
“It’s not just the gas outage,” said Frontus, holding up bottles of brown water and pointing to piles of garbage around the makeshift podium. “I can’t tell you how many people call me every single day talking about the water. Talking about the quality of life. Talking about the filth. The brown water that’s coming out. People breaking out in rashes. People not feeling safe.”
According to an NYCHA spokesperson, the outage happened on Aug. 15 during Sandy recovery and resilience work at Coney Island Houses, when a contractor hit a gas pipe near 3020 Surf Avenue while excavating for new walkways and curbs. National Grid quickly repaired the damaged gas pipe, but it was determined that some of the infrastructure in the basement and first floor required repair and replacement before the gas service could be safely restored to the building, said the spokesperson.
Frontus called the press conference to decry NYCHA’s and the city’s Human Resources Administration’s (HRA) response to the outage, which was to give affected tenants hot plates to cook on and to put up a notice at the development with no number to call announcing that repairs would take up to 50 days.
“No resident should ever have their lives put on hold or endangered by a gas outage caused through no fault of their own,” said Frontus. “Accidents happen – no question about it. But Southern Brooklyn families deserve more than being forced to wait weeks without assistance or answers for a critical repair to be made. That’s why I’m calling on NYCHA and HRA to do the right thing and put tenants first in the event of any future incidents.”
Frontus said noted that Mayor Bill de Blasio recently appointed a new person from outside the city to lead the NYCHA, Gregory Russ, and she invited him to the development to come to see for himself the damage done to the community.
“I think it’s one thing for us to be here like this when nobody knows what’s going on, but it’s another thing to make sure the people in charge of running the city to how we’re living here in Coney Island and see what we’re going through,” said Frontus.
The Assemblymember invited multiple members of the community to the podium to speak about their experiences living in the housing development. Many spoke about the difficulty managing their families, feeding their kids without hot plates, or difficulties paying rent, all while not being able to get basic essentials in their apartments.
One resident, Tracie Baker, said that she had court later that day because they were asking for her rent when she wasn’t even able to live in her apartment. She gave an impassioned speech about the difficulties of living in the low-income housing complex, calling NYCHA a “business.”
“So we have to live in damage and dirt. Like we’re animals. We’re not animals. We walk past these homeless animals as the rats that we see every day,” Baker said. “How, how? None of the doors is locked, the elevators barely work. We don’t have electricity some days. We don’t even get a notice when the water’s going off.”
Other speakers like Margaret Williams, Luz Lozada, and Brigitte Purvis-Williams spoke about the difficulties families faced doing simple tasks like making hot food or taking a shower. The overwhelming feeling was that there was no excuse for the treatment and that the people in power had left the community and families behind.
An NYCHA spokesperson said the gas lines repairs in the basement have been made and this week NYCHA is running required tests to ensure residents’ safety.
“We expect service to be restored by the end of next week (9/27),” the spokesperson said in an email.