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.
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.
“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.