NYCHA Brownstones on UWS Haven’t Had Gas in Months; Gaping Holes Left After Repairs Were Half-Completed


Willie Wiggins.

By Michael McDowell

Willie Wiggins has been without gas since Thanksgiving. So have Ricardo and Luis Cepeda. The three are residents of New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) West Side Urban Renewal Brownstones, in the West 90s, between Columbus and Central Park West.

“When the gas went out in November, we got hot plates. Just one for each apartment,” Wiggins told the Rag.

In the impacted apartments, maintenance workers cut open drywall, to reach and shut off gas lines.

But they didn’t finish the job.

“All they did was put a piece of plastic over the holes, and duct tape the plastic to hold it onto the wall,” Wiggins said. “The rodents are coming in,” he added, shaking his head.


Photo courtesy of Willie Wiggins.

Wiggins has lived in the neighborhood for almost 20 years, and previously worked for NYCHA.

Luis Cepeda, who lives with his son Ricardo in the Brownstones, has also gone without gas since November.


Luis and Ricardo Cepeda.

“I know it takes time, I know it’s not easy. I’ve worked with the city,” he said. “But you can’t wait years and years.”

Ricardo Cepeda, who is a third-generation West Sider, gave the Rag a tour of his apartment, which is cozy, despite the evident disrepair.

“The roof leaks, the floor is damaged—ripped all the way almost to the apartment below,” he motioned.

In the kitchen, as in Wiggins’ apartment: a large hole behind the stove, partially covered with plastic.

“I have to replace this plastic constantly,” said Cepeda. “I have mice like crazy now, I don’t know what to do about it.

In the bathroom, as well as in his bedroom: large holes in the walls and ceiling.

“All of this is leaking and rotten,” he gestured. “It’s been like this since 2001. They know, I have closed tickets, backed up,” he added, referring to a widely-criticized maintenance request system.

“Where’s the accountability? This is a lot to live with, and NYCHA isn’t listening. How much longer are we going to have to wait?” he wondered. “What’s next, the building falling?”

Tenants who appeared for a meeting regarding the gas on April 15—which NYCHA scheduled—found a locked door. Nobody from NYCHA had shown up.

Cynthia Tibbs, a Brownstone resident, has contacted local elected officials, including Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Borough President Gale Brewer, and State Senator Brian Benjamin. Tibbs also wrote to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Regional Director Lynne Patton, who briefly moved into the nearby Douglass Houses earlier this year.

“NYCHA has ignored all correspondence from our office about this issue,” said a spokeswoman for Council Member Rosenthal. “We have also been in contact with Con Edison, and Con Edison reports they too are waiting for NYCHA to respond to their requests for information, so that Con Edison can move forward with work.”

An inquiry with Con Edison has not yet been returned.

“Gas service interruptions and restoration work are a matter of public safety, and we are in the process of working with a vendor to complete necessary repairs,” said a NYCHA spokesman. “The gas service restoration process includes shutting off the gas service, making necessary repairs, and inspection by the Department of Buildings in order to safely restore service.”

But emails that have been made available to the Rag indicate that Con Edison closed a maintenance order for the affected Brownstones in January, due to a lack of response from NYCHA on the issue.

The Brownstones currently have no tenant association, and thus no tenant president. An association was disbanded over two years ago, according to Cynthia Tibbs, when board members submitted resignations.

Tibbs has sought to form a new tenant association, but says that NYCHA has contrived obstacles to her doing so every step of the way. Such an association is more important than ever before, as NYCHA undergoes a massive privatization, she argues. It would also help residents advocate for much needed repairs.

Meanwhile, NYCHA has scheduled another meeting this week to address the gas issue.

“I just want someone to actually care, that’s it,” Ricardo Cepeda said. “It’s been so long that we’ll take anything.”

According to both Council Member Rosenthal’s office as well as Brownstone residents, three buildings on 90th Street have been without gas since November. Another building, on 91st Street, has been without gas since January.

The Rag will update this story as new information becomes available.

NEWS | 31 comments | permalink
    1. dannyboy says:

      Shameful

      • NYYgirl says:

        +1

      • Paul says:

        As a couple of comments below note, this isn’t just happening in NYCHA and other low income properties.

        There are, in fact, high cost prewar coops and condos where this is happening, and it’s just as bad as with NYCHA.

        Why? The law puts pressure on for profit landlords, and con ed, to solve the issues in rental buildings on a priority basis. Everyone else lingers.

        If a leak in a building is found, Con Ed shuts off the gas at the source and the building goes down. The gas won’t come back on until every pipe is checked and all leaks are cleared by a master plumber and Con Ed. And when a line in a building has a leak, then the walls are opened and they aren’t closed until the leak is found and the work is completed.

        It happened to my building (11 months) it’s happening to friends now (estimate 6 months), and it’ll happen in many buildings to come.

        And since repair and re-certification priorities go to privately owned rental buildings, NYCHA properties are in the same boat as the coops and condos where classic 6s go for 2 million minimum.

        • Janice says:

          It’s happening in my building right now–since August 2018. I live in a rent-stabilized apartment in a coop building and my landlord hasn’t given any of the rent stabilized tenants hotplates (just another way to pressure us to leave). I would have to take him to court to get it (not worth it). At least we have heat.

          • Noemie Zysermann says:

            Janice, it happened to me too. Mostly rent controlled buildings from June 2018 to December. Check with the DOB and file 311 constantly as well as encourage your neighbors to do so. It is not a Coned issue once it lingers past a few months, it is a building management issue!

        • B.B. says:

          After two major building explosions (one of which in East Village claimed several lives), should think the reasons behind ConEd’s actions are apparent.

          When those explosions occurred and upon investigation finding dozens of buildings had gas meters/pipes that had been tampered with/improperly installed etc…. people raked ConEd and National Grid over the coals. This and when it came out city inspectors and others either overlooked and or perhaps were on the take things only got worse.

          So now no more Mr. Nice Guy. When ConEd or National Grid finds an issue gas is turned off, and won’t be restored until all T’s are crossed and I’s dotted.

          The current construction/renovation boom has meant licensed master plumbers are in high demand. They can earn more as a sub on a major construction site than installing a gas dryer, range or whatever. This and or working on new gas lines for a “small” building. Those who are out there have their plates full so people may find themselves having to wait.

          There have been stories in NYC media of people being without gas for two, three, or more months over a simple hot water installation. Something in the past many property owners simply did themselves, or got their cousin to do the job.

        • dannyboy says:

          Help me understand how you can possibly be in the same position as NYCHA residents.

    2. AC57 says:

      It’s NYCHA. Are we surprised here? Out of the all the terribly managed government agencies in the city (which translates to, well, all of the city’s government agencies), NYCHA might be the worst of the bunch. Their frequent blunders are never a surprise to me, and calling them blunders is being polite, quite frankly.

    3. Searon says:

      564 Amsterdam Ave (off 87th Street) on the UWS also lacked cooking gas for over a year, starting at the beginning of September 2017 and lasting well into fall 2018. The whole situation was horribly mismanaged and the building management company (Fenwick Keats) was sold to/merged into another company (AJ Clarke) in the middle of it all which complicated things further. Most tenants from that period moved out after long disputes over rent abatements and repair work. The landlord company is named Bampa Associates (sometimes spelled “Bamba” Associates too, because that’s how much they don’t have their sh** together). Please look into that situation too. NYCHA aside, landlords all over the city get away with this too often!

    4. NYCHA says:

      Oh come on wake-up people!!!!
      They want you out!!!!
      NYCHA attention is to sell off for the land and get rid of these tenants.
      These buildings are doomed and NYCHA knows it!!!!
      It’s time to MoveOn people they’re not going to repair or improve anything.
      My inside source tells me “let it break”.
      The party’s over !

    5. Discussed says:

      All I HAVE TO SAY IS BRING IT ON I’LL TAKE THE VOUCHER AND HEAD FOR THE HILLS. PLEASE GIVE ME ONE ITS MY GET OUT OF JAIL CARD!!!!!!!!!

    6. OOB says:

      If NYCHA had to repair what needs to be repaired the city agency would need to close down.

    7. young man! says:

      Come on folks, this is not unusual. When there is a gas leak or other problems with the gas system, it gets taken off line until there is no possibility of the leak recurring.

      I know of several privately owned buildings in the neighborhood that lost their gas service for 6+ months at a time.

      Problem is that once the leak is repaired, the entire building needs to be checked out and then there is the PAPERWORK.

      A friend owns a 25 unit building and had the gas shut off from this past Sept until the beginning of March. After everything was repaired, ConEd came by and said the gas meters weren’t labeled correctly and refused to turn service on again for 3 weeks.

      Of course it would be foolish to patch up the walls until everything gets signed off and restored.

      This is not a “because it is NYCHA” problem. Between safety issues and bureaucracy it takes a long time to get service restored once shut off due to leaks.

      • UWSer says:

        Oh great, so if this happened in your home you would be totally cool with it taking 6+ months to fix and getting no responses or updates about the situation from your landlord?

      • Jim says:

        This is a common enough occurrence and it does take months to resolve. But NYCHA could mitigate the vermin issue by sealing the wall openings with wallboard or plywood.

        Why are the walls ripped open? Most buildings have one shut off valve and it is in the basement.

        • Paul says:

          “Why are the walls ripped open?”

          Once the building is shut down everything gets checked for leaks. Gas won’t be restored until the building is certified leak free.

          If there’s a leak in a line then the walls are opened so that the source of the leak can be isolated and either the leak repaired or the pipes in the line all replaced.

        • B.B. says:

          Whenever there is any sort of gas or even water issue in multifamily housing walls and or ceilings are ripped open. Workers need to get at the pipes for entire line of units.

          Pretty much for same reasons ConEd or National Grid has to rip open large parts of a street to address a gas main issue.

          Gas pipes are tested by using pressure (or soap type substance). You cannot do that with things hidden behind walls or whatever because every join and bend must be checked.

        • B.B. says:

          Vermin in walls or building for that matter shouldn’t be there at all. We’ve had our bathroom walls/ceilings “ripped open” for a few weeks at time and nothing came crawling out. Why? Because our building doesn’t have vermin.

          BdeB and this one party city (and now state) government are all over private landlords; but in truth NYCHA is far worse, and or at least just bad as worst slumlords.

          Maybe BdeB, Corey Johnson and some other elected officials should be forced to live in some of these buildings for a while. That ought to bring the situation on home.

    8. John says:

      There is only one person to blame for this mess.

      New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

    9. MDS says:

      How about some human decency NYCHA? Get off your rear ends and finish the job so these people can live a normal life again, please!

      “I just want someone to actually care, that’s it,” Ricardo Cepeda said. “It’s been so long that we’ll take anything.”

    10. say-moi says:

      I’m beginning to wonder why anyone would want to live in NYC any more? The heart and soul of our formally wonderful city is being ripped out…… If you’re a creative trying to make a living .. fergedaboudit…. It ain’t happening. Rents are through the roof. Bunch of boring people with a ton of money have moved in…… Sad to say, we’re done.. It’s only going to get worse.

      • \_(**)_/ says:

        You think “boring people with money” are bad?
        Wait till you’re stuck with boring people without money.

        At least the bores with money fund the opera, symphony and museums.

    11. Edie says:

      Thank you WSR for highlighting this story. Please keep shining a light on it. The neglect and rodent issues along 91st st are shameful. I hope residents get some relief and I hope other community groups can help. It’s service everyone is entitled to. I want my taxes used better than this for my neighbors in need!

    12. Pedestrian says:

      And DeBlasio is running for President!

      He claims to be a progressives but all he’s doing is letting themproperties rot so he can give them to developers. He is shameless.

    13. paulcons says:

      One thing in a quick scan of the comments, nobody has mentioned this. Typical pressure in a residential gas line runs around half a pound, that is more than sufficient to supply most any need.. Con Ed “certification” requires over 3 pounds of pressure… we just had a repair done to a specific gas line that they refused to certify because it failed at something like 2.8 pounds.

      Word to others who are in co-ops, if you are still considering conversion of your boiler to gas, make sure to run a completely separate gas line to it (that’s how we did it several years back… and we made it dual fuel, it can run on gas or oil).

    14. Sarah says:

      These kinds of delays happen even in new, privately-owned condo buildings. It’s remarkable but I think we don’t need any repeats of what happened in the East Village.

      However, at least based on this article, NYCHA has failed to cooperate with the admittedly tortuous process of ConEd review, or to keep residents up-to-date on what’s going on. *That’s* the problem.

    15. Irena says:

      In 2008, there was a gas leak in our co-op building that includes renters. The pre-war, 1923 building with 66 units did not have gas for almost 14 months.

      The first thing that was done: Every apartment had the gas line from the stove disconnected.

      We ended up with a totally new pipe system in the building, new meters (old ones in apartment ripped out). However, at no time, were walls ripped open.

      the laundry room was out of service for close to three months while they converted from gas to electric units.

      It was a nightmare because the building also has very old and very limited wiring. So you couldn’t just buy a fancy convection oven (if you had the money) and cook in that.

      We managed with a microwave, hot plate and toaster oven but for sure there was no serious cooking and we did not have a family to feed.

      That it took that long is unnecessary. Don’t have enough available plumbers in the five boroughs? Hire them from Jersey, Ct, etc. as needed.

      That people should have to live with rodents because whoever is responsible has not boarded up walls is unconscionable, unacceptable and WRONG. Also, the owners should be sued for an uninhabitable apartment (rodents not delay in fixing gas, which they can get away with and without even a reduction in rent, we received none.)

      In some cases, it’s clear that they want people out. For those who say: Hey, leave. Understand: Some people cannot afford to move either financially or physically or both.

      Where do you move from affordable apartments (only because you moved in years ago) to others that are still affordable for seniors, the under-employed and those who for other reasons can’t afford exorbitant rents, walk-ups or unsafe areas or buildings.

    16. Thanks so much, everybody, for offering explanation. There’s more than 1 side to an issue, and not everything can be resolved with a click. Sometimes one has to fight oneself, for one’s home. A conspiracy against affordable housing? A NYCHA failure? Yet safety, procedure, protocol and a queue DO take time.

    17. B.B. says:

      Issues with these brownstones is not news, but an ongoing problem that has been building up for years.

      https://www.brickunderground.com/rent/NYCHA-upper-west-side-brownstone-problems

      These brownstones are old, almost ancient. If they weren’t part of the Westside urban renewal area they likely would have been sold to private owners who would have put money into the properties.

      https://www.nytimes.com/1982/09/29/nyregion/renewal-of-the-west-side-a-slow-moving-story.html

      Buying or taking via eminent domain a building is one thing; keeping it in good condition and so forth is another. As with all NYCHA housing these brownstones have suffered the same fate caused by decades of under investment by the city.