By Michael McDowell
Richard Welch, who lives in a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) building at 154 West 84th Street, takes the M5 bus up Riverside Drive to New York Presbyterian Columbia University Irving Medical Center, where he volunteers as a motivational speaker.
“I don’t get paid, but the way their faces light up when they see me? ‘Richard, I’ve been waiting for you!’ That’s all I need,” he told the Rag, in an interview in his immaculate third-floor apartment.
But for nearly two weeks, Welch—and his bright smile—haven’t been able to light up patients’ lives.
Welch, who says he was hospitalized for five years and has undergone 18 surgeries, uses a wheelchair, and the elevator in his building hasn’t been working.
“As of July 8th, there has been no elevator service in this development,” said Mona Lisa Morales, tenant association president of the building, which is known as the Dome Site. As of Sunday afternoon, it remained out of service.
Good neighbors across the hall have assisted Welch, checking in on him and even carrying him up and down three flights of stairs in his chair, in order for him to go about his life.
Welch does have home health aide service, but earlier this week he missed a dental surgery—because of the elevator, he said.
Maintenance generally lacks at Dome, residents assert, and as a result, Welch doesn’t always receive deliveries of medication. Sometimes the buzzer isn’t working; other times, when the elevator takes a few days off, a delivery may not make it up the stairs.
“This is not the first time that this has happened, we’ve waited more than four or five days for them to fix the elevator in the past,” said Sylvia Rivera-LaPrince, 68, a resident who lives on the fifth floor. “We have several heart patients, people with chronic asthma, people have walkers, and there are a lot of seniors, myself included,” said Rivera-LaPrince.
The Dome Site is a seven-story building with 35 units in total.
“I’ve had three knee replacements, I have asthma, and I have seizures. So if I go up those steps and I get overwhelmed, I could pass out,” said Sandra Richardson, who lives on the fourth floor.
Richardson uses Access-A-Ride to commute to and from work.
When will the elevator be fixed?
“We are working with our management partner at 154 W. 84th Street to restore elevator service as quickly as possible,” a NYCHA spokesman told the Rag.
That partner is Kraus Management, one of a number of private real estate companies with which NYCHA contracts to manage various developments throughout the city. According to documents obtained by the Rag, Kraus manages between 60-70 buildings in 17 developments in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn.
A voicemail left for a property manager at Kraus was not returned.
Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s office is aware of the issue, and according to a spokeswoman, Rosenthal has been advocating for residents through a number of different channels. She will continue to press NYCHA on the elevator until a repair is completed, the spokeswoman said.
“We need a brand new elevator,” Welch emphasized.
Another resident, Cherryl Irizarry, agreed.
“This elevator isn’t outdated, it’s obsolete,” Irizarry said.
Welch was provided with a device to use to descend the stairs, in case of an emergency, but the device isn’t usable.
“When you go down one section of the stairs, and you try to turn, it doesn’t fit. You get stuck,” Welch explained.
“Kraus Management is the one who brought him that device,” Morales said as Welch sat nearby.
A notice posted in the building’s lobby indicates that there will be a meeting on July 22 at 5 p.m., to discuss the elevator outage.
Morales said tenants also struggle with rodents, water damage, and unusable doors. In a laundry room, several washing machines were unplugged.
“They’re not working,” she said. “It’s been that way for a long time.”
Morales says she has represented her building for 23 years, since she moved into the Dome Site in 1996. She was raised in the neighborhood, and her mother, Maria Elena Morales, lives in the nearby Douglass Houses, in the West 100s.
“I’ve been on the Upper West Side with my mom since I was two years old,” she told the Rag. “We have a lot of history here,” she added. “From 100th Street, between Columbus and Central Park West. I know the whole area.”
As the neighborhood endures a blistering heat wave—a local emergency, per Mayor Bill de Blasio—one hopes Dome Site residents catch their breath before ascending the stairs.
“When I moved into this building in 2005, I thought, wow, I am blessed. But now, in 2019, it’s starting to look like a real project,” Welch said.