Legal Aid Calls NYCHA's Failure To Make Needed Repairs For Hundreds Of Families "Shocking"
MONDAY, MAY 13, 2013

In a New York Daily News feature article on deplorable conditions in New York City Housing Authority apartments, Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society's Civil Law Reform Unit, referred to a communication from a New York City Housing Authority procurement official that "court order repairs is (sic) not an emergency" as "shocking." Goldiner told the Daily News that "When people have such bad repairs that they actually go to housing court to bring a case, I don't understand why the Housing Authority wouldn't make sure that the repairs got done."

Goldiner's comments were in an article by Greg B. Smith, a Daily News reporter, who has been doing a number of stories pointing out the problems faced by families in public housing developments when needed repairs are not made.




New York Daily News
City Housing Authority canceled large part of its repair orders backlog; pace has picked up since Hurricane Sandy
By Greg B. Smith
May 5, 2013

An investigation by the Daily News has learned that the pace of the cancellations increased after Sandy struck and Mayor Bloomberg vowed to slash the backlog of work orders by 2014. Some tenants have been trapped in bureaucratic limbo and the repairs are still waiting for fixes.

Jaiden Estrella, 3, plays near a wall where a leak has ruined the plaster in his Jackson Houses unit in the Bronx.

The City Housing Authority apparently has found an effective way to draw down its huge backlog of 420,000 apartment repair requests — just cancel them.

NYCHA has always cancelled hundreds of repair orders or tickets per months, often for legitimate reasons, but the pace of such cancellations picked up steam after Sandy struck and Mayor Bloomberg vowed to slash the backlog of work orders by 2014, a Daily News investigation has found.

As a result, some tenants find themselves trapped in a bureaucratic limbo awaiting repairs of collapsed ceilings, mold-infested walls, busted bathroom fixtures and a host of other odious problems.

“They keep giving me the same situation and I’m tired,” said Jackelyn Flores, 31, a resident of the Jackson Houses in the Bronx who’s been fighting for a year to get her leaking bathroom wall patched up.

Tenants like Flores say after waiting for months and even years they learn their request has been cancelled and have to start all over.

These requests — some of which date back four years — have steadily risen in number since Mayor Bloomberg appointed NYCHA Chairman John Rhea in 2009.

On Jan. 31 Bloomberg announced a new “comprehensive action plan” to “virtually eliminate the entire backlog by year’s end.”

Rhea admitted the plan was “very ambitious” and would require closing more than 1,000 pending repair requests each day for the rest of the year.

Jaiden Estrella stands by a sink that detached from the wall and narroly missed him, but fell on his older brother's foot, causing a fracture.

By March 11, Rhea claimed NYCHA had made “solid progress,” closing 73,000 requests to cut the backlog to “under 350,000.”

Rhea attributed this to “the hard work of every employee, along with better utilization of our resources,” and said the authority was “on track” to erase the entire backlog by 2014.

Internal NYCHA documents obtained by the Daily News paint a more complicated picture.

NYCHA cancels repair requests if they determine a problem has been resolved or if they’re unable to gain access repeatedly to the requestor’s apartment.

Usually they average about 25,000 cancellations per month. But after Hurricane Sandy knocked out power and heat for 80,000 NYCHA residents Oct. 29, the number of repair cancellations began to climb.

In November NYCHA cancelled 40,802 repair requests, in December, 38,440. In January, just before Bloomberg announced the crackdown, NYCHA cancelled 58,000 requests — a record.

NYCHA spokeswoman Sheila Stainback said the spike in cancelled tickets had nothing to do with the agency’s initiative to eliminate the backlog.

She blamed it on the storm, even though most of the cancellations took place in January — two months after NYCHA says it restored heat and power to Sandy-affected developments.

Candie Estrella shows how freezer leaks fill her refrigerator with water.

"As NYCHA fulfilled these work orders, this results in the oldest work order being closed, and the rest of the similar requests are cancelled. This is unrelated to our Action Plan to reduce the backlog of repairs,” she said.

NYCHA workers speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being fired told The News the campaign to eliminate the backlog has been a sham.

In an effort to reduce the numbers, they said, repair “tickets” were simply cancelled and counted as closed when the new initiative kicked off at the beginning of the year.

One insider said since the initiative was announced, workers have faced increased pressure to close tickets.

“I know that this is what they’ve been told to do. I think most managers are doing their best to close them, but sometimes they just can’t do it,” the worker said. “The managers will say they’ve been told ‘Just get the job done.’ That leaves it open to many ways to do that.”

At the Jackson Houses in the Bronx, Candie Estrella, 29, has been withholding rent in her year-long attempt to get NYCHA to plaster and paint the crumbling, mold-infested unit she shares with her sons, ages 3, 8 and 10.

Early last year NYCHA removed her bathroom sink to plaster over a hole in the wall, then reattached the sink. Two months later, it fell off the wall and fractured the foot of her 8-year-old, Bryan, and just missed Jaiden, 3.

Last month a repairman failed to show on the appointed day, so she called NYCHA and was told no such appointment existed. She was given another date but nobody showed.

Jackelyn Flores, with sons Joshua (left) and Angel (right), has been fighting to get repairs for a year in her Jackson House apartment.

“I’m not paying my rent until they fix this. I can’t live like this,” Estrella said.

Her neighbor, Flores, also experienced the mysterious disappearing repair trick after battling with NYCHA for years to fix leaking pipes in her kitchen and bathroom.

A single mother working on a degree at John Jay College, she lives in a one-bedroom with her two young sons, ages 3 and 7.

For more than a year, NYCHA promised to fix the leaky pipe behind her bathroom wall, but after months of delay they arrived and merely patched the wall. The leaky pipe remained, so — sure enough — the leak reappeared.

This time she went to court and got a judge to order NYCHA to really fix the problem.

Under court order, NYCHA reappeared but patched up the wall again. This time Flores gave up, deciding to get an appointment for a painter to cover the patched wall.

When the painter didn’t show on the appointed day, she said she called NYCHA — and learned her painting appointment had suddenly vanished.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYCHA Chairman John Rhea announced an aggressive plan with the goal of eliminating the huge backlog of repair work orders in NYCHA properties.

“I called and they told me that the ticket is invalid” because NYCHA claimed she wasn’t home on the scheduled date. Flores insists she was there, but the NYCHA worker told her, ‘Ma’am, you gotta re-call again.’ ”

In some developments over the last few months, NYCHA records show the agency cancelled one ticket for every two tickets completed.

At so-called “mixed finance” developments across the five boroughs in January, for instance, NYCHA completed 32,000 repairs while cancelling 14,000 requests.

At the Boulevard Houses in Brooklyn, NYCHA actually cancelled more tickets than they completed in February: 1,097 repair requests cancelled to 1,076 resolved.

The Housing Authority is sitting on hundreds of repairs ordered by judges, declaring in an internal email that court-ordered fixups are “not an emergency.”Frustrated by delays, hundreds of tenants go to court each month to force NYCHA’s hand. But records obtained by the Daily News show the agency doesn’t always move when a judge says fix it.

In a March 27 email to subordinates, David Chew, a deputy director in the procurement department, wrote that “court order repairs is (sic) not an emergency,” and advised NYCHA workers who “believe it’s an emergency” to “elevate up the chain of command.”

Judith Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society, which represents hundreds of tenants in repair disputes with NYCHA, called the email “shocking.”

“When people have such bad repairs that they actually go to housing court to bring a case, I don’t understand why the Housing Authority wouldn’t make sure that the repairs got done,” she said.

“Our process for handling court-ordered repairs has not changed,” insisted NYCHA spokeswoman Sheila Stainback, stating that the email refers to procurement of material for repairs — not repairs.

“In order to ensure proper procurement of material, we temporarily added an additional layer of approval on certain purchases,” she said.Internal NYCHA records show as of March 11, NYCHA had “failed to schedule” 857 court-ordered repairs, was waiting to schedule another 2,534 and waiting to approve another 74.