Op-Ed: A COVID Winter is Coming for NYCHA

NYCHA's Queensbridge Houses. Photo by Metro Centric from Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s Note: This op-ed was co-authored by city council candidates David Aronov (Queens), Aleta LaFargue (Manhattan), Kim Moscaritolo (Manhattan), Corey Ortega (Manhattan), Marcos Sierra (Bronx), Christopher Durosinmi (Brooklyn), Brian Cunningham (Brooklyn), Selina Grey (Staten Island)

COVID’s Winter is coming, but we’re not ready for the cold-weather challenges that lie ahead of us in our NYCHA developments. 

In recent winters, too many tenants have been left in the cold and without hot water at the whim of old, failing boiler systems at developments across the city. There were more than 134,000 New Yorkers living in NYCHA developments that lost their heat from Oct. 1st, 2019 to Dec. 31st, 2019. In total there were 322 outages recorded at 126 developments. Last year NYCHA stated a critical need for $3,000,000,000 (3 billion) in funding repairs and replacements but it has not come fast enough, meaning that tenants will face months of freezing conditions in their own homes all over again. 

This part isn’t new but to make this bad situation worse, this winter will be exceptionally difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic spikes to almost 3% city-wide. The combination of a variety of variables created what some have called a “perfect storm” enabling the spread COVID-19, and 47 developments, 22 of which are seniors-only, reported infection rates higher than the city average last spring. In particular, maintenance issues like poor ventilation, unreliable elevators, and mold worked together to heighten risk, putting the safety of hundreds of thousands of tenants in disproportionate danger. 

We can’t afford to repeat past winters, especially without any mercy from COVID-19. To stave off the worst and protect tenants from the bracing cold of winter and from the second wave of COVID-19, leaders need to come together to take action today. Here’s what we’re doing to organize our community towards tangible solutions while simultaneously waiting on a possible vaccine that Gov. Cuomo will distribute and prioritize for communities of color which definitely includes NYCHA residents. 

What our community needs is organization and follow through. Too often residents are left without needed services as they wait for repairs. This year has seen multiple developments go without cooking oil for six months or more. Tenant movements have been started, mutual aid has been set up but what is needed is government action and for agencies to work as intended. Coordinated action across our city is needed as this is a problem that shows up in all our boroughs. 

Our campaigns are setting up a mechanism to gather, track, and insure that complaints are acted on. We have set up dedicated phone numbers and emails that will be publicly available and advertised in NYCHA buildings. Resident complaints will be logged and tracked in a database. We will work with tenants associations and residents who have been organizing around these issues for years and listen to the residents we hope to serve. 

In cases where the resident needs assistance with making their complaint, our volunteers will input it for them via the Use My NYCHA link. Once entered, our campaigns will compile the data and present it to NYCHA headquarters at 250 Broadway through our State Senators and Assembly members requesting emergency boilers using emergency funding allocated for this very sort of situation. The campaigns will also organize a building wide phone tree to allow residents to work together to identify building-wide loss of services. Additionally, the campaign will work with residents to make them aware of opportunities to testify before various city and state hearings on issues affecting them.

We don’t have money to buy new boilers, but we have emergency funds to rent boilers for a few months to keep our residents warm and show the city that low income is no longer synonymous with low quality. Political campaigns in the COVID era must serve as more than just a platform to stand for. We must advocate for and organize our district for solutions today, so that our current policy makers listen and the future council members are shovel ready on day one. 

Sincerely, 

Aleta LaFargue, Candidate, Council District 03 (Manhattan) 

Kim Moscaritolo, Candidate, City Council District 05 (Manhattan) 

Corey Ortega, Candidate, City Council District 07 (Manhattan) 

Marcos Sierra, Candidate, City Council District 11 (Bronx) 

Althea Stevens, Candidate, City Council District 16 (Bronx) 

David Aronov, Candidate, City Council District 29 (Queens) 

Christopher Durosinmi, Candidate, City Council District 37 (Brooklyn) 

Briget Rein, Candidate, City Council District 39 (Brooklyn) 

Selina Grey, Candidate, City Council District 49 (Staten Island)

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