NYCHA’s Response to Coronavirus is Inadequate, Residents and Leaders Say; ’People Are Going to Die in Their Apartments’


Cynthia Tibbs, president of the WSUR Brownstones tenant association.

By Michael McDowell

As coronavirus sweeps across New York City, disturbing stories have begun to emerge from New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments, and some have begun to question whether NYCHA, a beleaguered agency undergoing major structural change, will be able to keep residents—and employees—safe.

NYCHA is home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers—a number approximately equivalent to the population of Miami.

Residents of one development, the WSUR Brownstones, a community made up of several dozen buildings between 89th and 93rd Streets on the Upper West Side, say the agency isn’t following through with promises to clean buildings, many of which house seniors. What’s more, critical information isn’t reaching residents, and maintenance requests have gone unanswered.

Although NYCHA has partnered with outside vendors to “sanitize non-senior developments 3 days per week, and senior buildings 5 days per week,” Marlyn Ramos, who lives in a NYCHA brownstone on 89th Street with her mother, told the Rag that cleaning hasn’t been happening in her building.


Marlyn and Gloria Ramos.

“They don’t clean this building, to be honest with you. I’m the one that cleans my floor to the third floor. They don’t clean, they don’t disinfect, and we have senior citizens that are in these buildings,” she said.

Cynthia Tibbs, who was elected president of the WSUR Brownstones tenant association in January, said that communication with NYCHA has grown increasingly difficult as the coronavirus pandemic has worsened, and that NYCHA hasn’t been transparent about employees who may have contracted the virus, putting residents at risk.

“We now have [NYCHA] workers who are out on sick leave. Common sense would say that you put a notice out saying, please look out for the following symptoms, as you might have inadvertently made contact with someone who is affected. Please reach out to your health care provider if you exhibit any of the following symptoms that are associated with coronavirus.”

“They refused to display that information in the lobby,” she said.

Tibbs has been working to get information—and meals—to seniors during the pandemic, which has overwhelmed city services.

“The Brownstones are majority senior, and NYCHA has not done one wellness check. They have done sporadic robocalls, which gives you no live number to call. The majority of seniors do not have computers or cell phones. Many people only have rotary phones, which leaves them vulnerable,” she added.


Inside one of the Brownstones.

“If they would send me a list of all the seniors in my development, I would reach out to them personally. But I have never received that list,” she said. “People are going to die in their apartments.”

Tibbs has been unable to reach Brownstones management. Phones ring unanswered, messages are not returned, and emails lead nowhere, she says. But that’s how it’s been for a long time.

The Rag has documented a pattern of neglect at the WSUR Brownstones, many of which are in desperate need of repair.


The entrance area.

Mara Ramos lives in one of the brownstones, a pretty building on a shady block. The Ramos’ live on the top floor.

“It says four, but it’s really five, because the first floor is ‘B,’” Mara explained. “My mom uses a wheelchair. She’s starting to deteriorate a little bit. She has Parkinson’s and diabetes. She has slight dementia. She needs a lot of assistance.”

Gloria Ramos has lived at 49 West 89th Street for more than fifty years. In May, she will be 86 years old.

Gloria Ramos has a home health attendant, and services like Meals on Wheels attempt to deliver. But because of a broken buzzer, they cannot get into the building. So Mara must walk up and down the stairs when they arrive to open the door. Despite numerous maintenance requests, this simple repair hasn’t been made.


The buzzer system.

It’s one of many.

Peeling paint, water soaking through the walls into mailboxes, ceilings and floors that appear ready to collapse, an external door so flimsy it can be jimmied open using a Metro card, mice infestation. The list goes on, and on, and on.

Most recently, Mara told the Rag, a toilet in the basement, which is not inhabited, was overflowing with raw sewage. Even on the top floor, the stench was unbearable, especially for New Yorkers sheltering in place during the pandemic.

“They come, they pump it out, and then it keeps backing up. It’s been going on for months and months,” she sighed. “They finally took the toilet out. They closed it up. We’ll see what happens.”

“They’re just letting these places fall apart,” said Mara. “I send them pictures, I go to the office—it’s one thing after another. What they keep telling me is that it’s because of the budget. That they don’t have the funds. And I think they’re mismanaging the funds, to be honest with you,” she continued.

“It’s time to investigate that damn office.”

UPDATE: “NYCHA is sanitizing high-touch, high-traffic areas in senior buildings five times a week and non-senior buildings three times a week, above and beyond DOHMH guidance,” a spokeswoman noted, in a written response to the Rag. “We are utilizing all methods of communication, including phone calls, social media and posters in multiple languages at every building to inform our residents of the latest health and safety guidance from our health department and our city, state and federal partners. We have made 37,693 individual phone calls, and have personally spoken to 19,961 of our most vulnerable residents to confirm first-hand that they understand the precautions regarding COVID-19, and to identify whether they have any special needs and connect them with health information and services, wellness checks, mental health services, meals and host of other support services.” Information as to how many employees have tested positive for COVID-19 was not available as of Saturday. NYCHA has partnered with United Eastco to disinfect senior buildings five times per week, and Alliance Maintenance is disinfecting family developments and management offices three times per week.
The spokeswoman wrote that there is “no work order” for Marlyn and Gloria Ramos’ buzzer, at 49 West 89th Street. According to the spokeswoman, there have been four managers in the past five years at the WSUR Brownstones.
NEWS | 31 comments | permalink
    1. Jodi says:

      Those conditions are egregious and tenants should know that they have the right to start an emergency HP action in housing court against their landlord. At this point, housing courts in the city are mostly closed, but if the repairs are an emergency to the point where the home is dangerous, tenants should start an emergency repairs case against the building. If tenants want to put in an emergency HP application, they can do so online here: https://app.justfix.nyc/en/ehp/splash

      • Pete says:

        You know that this problem has been going for years right? It does not matter if you file a complain or whatever you do. The city does not really care about its tenants. Also NYCHA for two years in a row has been rated as the worst landlord of the city.

      • Consigliere says:

        @Jodi these are city owned properties. Are you familiar with NYCHA? I suggest you google NYCHA and their tons of issues. There is no money for these properties and they’re tremendously in debt. The combination of no rental revenue plus incompetence is a deadly combination.

        • Jodi says:

          Hi all,

          I’m very familiar with NYCHA as they are a regular in housing court-where I happen to work. NYCHA, while a public entity, is a landlord and subject to the same legal regulations that every other landlord is in the city. The HP action is one tool which is free for low income tenants and a way to begin a legal action against their landlord. This is a very common practice and is often used to pressure landlords into completing necessary repairs. All NYC tenants should be aware of the resources available to them-ultimately it’s their decision as to how to move forward. Also-there are many tenant rights organizations in the city, some based on the UWS, that I’m sure would be willing to assist if needed. Hope this helps!

        • Gin says:

          There IS money. The fact that it is mismanaged is a different story.

    2. Yesenia says:

      I just sent a email to the major about this same situation. I live in the bronx and live in a building full of seniors I have sanitized my floor hallways doorknobs and elevators and buttons. I haven’t seen any workers cleaning nothing. This is sad and very crazy. I feel like this is being done on purpose so we can die. I’m already looking into using my savings to move far away from n.y.c. I am praying for all my seniors.

    3. Kumar says:

      Large portion of funds are stolen by corrupt Information Technology executives. Ring leader is hiding in his multimillion California mansion.

    4. Kumar says:

      Large portion of funds are stolen by corrupt Information Technology executives.

    5. Carmen says:

      I live in the wilson housing projects and the elevators and floors are filthy, some people have been seen walking around with spray bottles, but what are they disinfecting. I’ve heard some maintenance workers have gotten sick, but you don’t know who they are there are no notices up. The mailman who brought our mail passed from corona, we found out by word of mouth, Those calls that NYCHA is supposedly making to tenants I haven’t recieved one. You know what else is funny two days ago was the first time since this all started that a police car has passed in our neighborhood talking about distancing. It’s like they know we are Hispanic, Black, and they don’t give a shit about anyone that’s a minority, we aren’t even being tested and they have the audacity about speaking on opening the city. Wow really, somebody has to stand up for
      all of our people in Harlem all we are
      All lost.

      • nene says:

        I believe if minorities weren’t living here these conditions would not exist to this extreme.. They want people to move or die before they do anything…This is horrible…311 is useless.

      • luke says:

        Bill de Blasio is in the process of looking for the 1 billion dollars that has disappeared from his wife’s Thrive program,so these problems can be rectified

    6. Natasha Severin says:

      Very similar story is unfolding in the senior building on 1940 Lexington Ave, no cleaning for months!no intercoms at all! Good building of 1986 quickly turning into invalid ruin together with neglected tenants! We have 4 people dead! Area is infected, but– no any desinfaction! Some managements need criminal investigaton!!

    7. Anthony says:

      But they can still give boots to people cars in housing parking lots the little money people save on times like this we need to use it for a release on nycha boots instead of using it for groceries no street parking cause people don’t move there cars cause of lock down

    8. Eleanor Seepes says:

      How disgusting.SHAME, NYC!!! WHERE IS HELEN ROSENTHAL AND HER TEAM–GALE BREWER–ALL THE CITY OFFICIALS. SHAME!!!

    9. Jessie says:

      Those conditions are horrible.
      NYCHA building at 2430 bronxwood ave/waring ave has had NO HOT WATER for a month . The office manager Ms.Soto is nasty and nothing is being done. Even with contacting the councilman office.

    10. This is unacceptable. How can I help. I would like to work for NYCHA on administrative level.

      • NYCHA does not want to relinquish control to outsiders. We can only watch it get worse but not help. If you live across the street you have no say as to how it affects your community. It is not politically correct to contradict or recommend things that change the status quo. Reforming the system is not wanted and the elected officials pander to those attitudes.

    11. Karine says:

      Wagner houses do the same, they don’t care about anything or anybody, only about you paying their rent even if you are unemployed they put pressure on you. Some people in the office are very racist they try to do everything difficult if they know you are an immigrant or do not understand the language. They don’t want to fix anything even when you call many times.

    12. dc says:

      These photos illustrate decades of NYCHA mismanagement and poor decision making. That buzzer looks to be a newer model, and yet broken, amid walls and floors with years of extensive damage.

    13. David Grutmacher says:

      There are plenty of properties temporarily vacated during this pandemic, and the mayor and housing authority should implement housing justice via temporary orders of eminent domain to distribute these folks throughout buildings in their neighborhood until the epidemic passes. Meanwhile they can rehab their current residences.

    14. Anonymous says:

      I am a nycha worker n some of the tenants have good concerns . Just like our NYCHA worker. Our tenants leave Glover, trash in the hall ways making it more difficult to keep it safe . The residents have to understand the we have made a judgment. Coming in at 6am all the way to 7pm . I have photos of some of the things we deal with n the residents need to understand our lives are at risk too. One hand wash the other . MEANWHILE the residents need to understand it either one person to a building a 1500 residence or sometimes one person totally six buildings which consists of 12 to 22 floors. Right now due to the academic I will people are being at the same risk as I residence trying to stop this academic I will people just as Bowl trying to keep clean a with other people live at are dying as well the pay that we receive is not enough but we still come to work to try to do what we can is best possibly. I have been in nature for a short. Of time but yet and still I have seen people blame the lowest of our since you work is and say it’s our fault it’s not much that one person can do to 1500 or more people living in the development or one building.

      • ELIZABETH RAMIREZ says:

        Nobody clean the building like it should they clean with a dirty mop an they use the same water that they use from up going down because I saw it myself how they clean an I do a better then them because not for nothing I clean my hallway an the elevator ok I sweep and mop with the stuff I have only for the hallway I do it myself because my apartment is clean and I don’t want the dirt coming into my apartment but you think housing give a damm no I even told housing I’ll clean the hallway and elevator and I’ll mop but they told me no I even told housing at one time that if I clean the hallway take it off my damm rent but no so I told them have your workers do something it’s not it a 11or 12 step up no it’s not 6 floor elevator in the building no damm excuse at all housing needs to have real workers and workers who could talk to you with out a problems an no attitude to the tenants like I said I’m a good person until you get me mad I hope housing does something right for ones in there life…

    15. Ja e says:

      NYCHA isn’t cleaning any buildings nor are they performing repairs. They told my 71 y.o mother to put a pan under her sink, they refuse to repair.

    16. Ellen Corley says:

      Does the city have a “code enforcement” department? I also lived with these problems until I began doing my research (Savannah GA) and got the City of Savannah Code Enforcement to come and investigate many complaints. We went to court and I got all news media coverage. Contact me at email:ellenpcorley3111957@gmail.com
      I will be glad to explain step by step how you too can get the help you need. It took me 18 months, but I won!!!

    17. Mundy says:

      In Bayview houses in Brooklyn New York? Building 22. They have not anyone come and clean the buildings. They just sweep the floor once in a while. Floors flithy. Elevator walls dirty, garbage compact area dirty. Complaints fall on deaf ears. There’s Seniors in the building. They not treating the tenants right. They don’t care if we get sick or die

    18. B.B. says:

      WSR has covered those townhouse NYCHA properties a few times in past.

      City/NYCHA doesn’t have the tens of millions it would cost to totally rehab those buildings. That is simply a fact, and city and residents should agree on that fact and look for an acceptable out.

      Best thing would be to give families priority into another NYCHA property or any of the city sponsored “affordable housing” lottery building. This or any of the private low income “affordable” properties.

      Give said tenants something for moving expenses and bother, then when buildings are empty sell them off free and clear to make back funds spent.

      Can hear the cackles now about “displacing the poor for benefit of the rich”… But sometimes you just have to fish or cut bait.

      Anyone who owns or has purchased an ancient NYC townhouse will tell you costs for rehab/repair are very high. IIRC someone purchased a building in west 70’s or 80’s and promptly let it fall further into rack and ruin for lack of funds. Also IIRC Ms. Brewer got involved to broker a sale that finally saw the vermin infested building taken care of.

      Yes, tenants have rights, but so does the city and taxpayers. These buildings were not in great condition when city got them, and while we can argue on whose watch things got worse, in the end things are what they are.

      For seniors and even some of the middle aged tenants in this building moving to new construction with all the bells and whistles is far better than what they’ve got now, or likely to see in future where they reside currently.

      • The way NYCHA is run is designed to fail. You get what you pay for. Cheap rents and no management accountability make NYCHA unsustainable. Some of the problems are illustrated in the following article.

        https://nypost.com/2018/07/14/nearly-17k-nycha-tenants-are-behind-on-their-rent/

        Many of the buildings are over 70 years old. Repairs to buildings are not cheap. NYCHA overpays for renovations. Its maintenance operations are inefficient. It is cheaper to build new facilities designed to meet the current needs of its residents.

        • B.B. says:

          Huge issue is that many NYCHA buildings are long past their usable lifespan. Add to this decades of deferred maintenance and you see where that gets you.

          Federal government long ceased funding large scale low income housing blocks for many reasons. Primary was that these projects over time became just as bad (or worse) than the slums that were cleared to replace.

          New Jersey, Chicago and elsewhere in USA tenants were relocated out of housing estates, the things torn down, and new model mixed income housing built. NYC however for various reasons still clings to these public housing blocks.

          Sooner or later however things will have to change. NYC is already on the hood by feds to spend > $40 billion (a figure that has grown from $24 billion), to repair/rehab scores of public housing. City does not have that kind of money, nor are there concrete plans on where it is going to come from either.

          Meanwhile people continue to live in places that are falling down around them.

          BdeB and his HPD are quick to haul private landlords into court about substandard conditions. However as the largest landlord in NYC (via public housing), things aren’t that much better on their end either.

    19. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      thank you WSR and Michael McDowell for your coverage of this.

      the problem with NYCHA is not that it is a bad idea. public housing, in fact, is a very good idea. the problem is that the maintenance has been underfunded for decades, in large part due to federal disinvestment starting with the Reagan years. affordable housing funds were cut back and cut back, and even those that continued were re-directed towards Section 8 vouchers, which end up in the hands of private landlords.

      it’s sad to see the commenter “BB” above USING the crisis situation in the NYCHA WSUR brownstones to try to get the buildings sold off into the private sector and the tenants moved out! How tone deaf. Imagine if this was done all over NYCHA. we would lose hundreds of thousands of affordable units in NYC.

      selling off NYCHA is an attack on those tenants and all poor and working class people. I have an alternative: make the repairs!

      How does “BB” know that WSUR requires a complete rehab costing “tens of millions”? he/she is just tossing out pseudo-facts. Why have all NYCHA buildings “exceeded their useful lives”? Douglass Houses were built in the late 50s, newer than most UWS buildings. My high end condo building was built in 1929. The real estate industry would never say it has “exceeded its useful life.” Should most Columbia University buildings on the Morningside campus be torn down due to their construction date (early 1900s)? it’s interesting to note the double standard when building are used for poor and working people.

      The private sector has failed time and again to construct and maintain affordable housing in NYC. The major affordable programs have been public housing, or Mitchell-Lama, or various other forms of subsidized coops. Or rent stabilization, which the landlords hate.

      I can’t end without pointing out that the govt subsidies per unit on high end coops and condos are probably much higher than NYCHA subsidies. The main one is called the Mortgage Interest Tax Deduction, but there are other subsidies as well. But no one questions the sustainability of these programs. Well, certainly not the private real estate industry. Subsidies for thee, unfair; subsidies for me, necessary.