Tenant Leaders and Cryptocurrency Millionaire Rally to Restore Gas at NYCHA After Outage

Cynthia Tibbs speaking at a rally about NYCHA brownstones.

By Amelia Roth-Dishy

In 2019, residents of two buildings in the West Side Urban Renewal (WSUR) Brownstones, a scattered-site NYCHA complex on the Upper West Side between 89th and 93rd Streets, went almost a full year without gas, as the Rag reported last October. Now, once again, those buildings and their neighbors along 91st Street have no gas, while nine buildings on 90th Street lost heat on Sunday. (According to NYCHA, the heating outage has since been repaired.)

At a press conference held on Wednesday, Cynthia Tibbs, the tenant president of the WSUR Brownstones complex, called on NYCHA to take immediate action. “Give my tenants heat. Give my tenants back their gas. It is unfair to go another holiday with no gas,” she said.

Tibbs said that technicians came in person to inspect the situation and determined that it was not yet cold enough to turn the heat back on— “the typical textbook excuse,” she said, though it was 43 degrees on Monday. NYCHA contractors laid new pipes in buildings #40 and #26 after last year’s prolonged gas outage. But those buildings are among the ones currently affected, raising questions about why year-old plumbing already requires repairs. And NYCHA’s rapid privatization of building operations, Tibbs says, has resulted in frequent managerial turnover and staff that are unfamiliar with the workings of their buildings.

The brownstones.

“[NYCHA President Gregory] Russ’ answer to fixing NYCHA is to privatize everything,” Tibbs said. “That’s not the answer. NYCHA is given capital money to fix things. They don’t do it, they all do the least they can. So at the end of the year when they show their managers that they saved money, everyone gets a nice fat bonus. Stop with the bonuses!” Tibbs said to applause. “Fix our buildings. Act like you care.”

In an emailed statement, a representative for NYCHA wrote: “Restoring service after a gas disruption is a matter of public safety that involves multiple partners and steps, which include shutting off gas service once a complaint is reported; determining the necessary repairs; and coordinating with the utility company to ensure gas is returned to residents safely. We are currently working with an outside vendor to expedite this process.”

Heating for the WSUR Brownstones, which NYCHA has turned on since October 1st, is supplied by a steam main and therefore unrelated to the gas outage.

While Wednesday’s press conference was on the one hand a straightforward attempt to hold NYCHA accountable for providing basic utilities to its residents, the event also doubled as a campaign stop for Brock Pierce, a third-party candidate in the upcoming presidential election who has been endorsed by the Independence Party of New York State. In a curious confluence of events, speakers addressed the press from a podium emblazoned with a “Brock for President” campaign sign; campaign staffers handed out logo-ed masks to the WSUR residents in attendance.

Brock Pierce.

“I’m glad that I have an opportunity to shed light on this situation, to bring attention to it,” Pierce said at the press conference. He expressed his horror at the buildings’ current conditions before expounding on the impetus of his campaign. “I can summarize why I’m running for office in one word: love,” he proclaimed, encouraging people to visit his website and learn more about his platform.

Pierce, whose net worth the International Business Times estimated as $400 million in September, contracted a food truck for the press conference, which handed out free cheesesteaks and hoagies along Central Park West. The gesture was intended to address the food insecurity WSUR Brownstone residents are currently experiencing due to the gas outage.

“If it wasn’t for Brock Pierce bringing a food truck out today, my tenants would not get food,” Tibbs said at the press conference. “NYCHA has not offered them any food assistance whatsoever except a menial little hot plate, which nobody can cook on,” she added.

The man responsible for connecting the tenants of the WSUR site to the Brock Pierce campaign was Tony Herbert, a community activist and housing advocate who has worked with Tibbs and had spoken previously with Pierce. After Tibbs reached out to him about the tenants’ plight, Herbert said he saw an opportunity to elevate the situation onto the national stage and connected with Pierce’s team, which was seeking issues to show up for in New York.

“We just make some noise together, that’s all,” Herbert said.

“I’m like an accelerant or an amplifier. I’m here to, like, get the message out, turn the volume up,” Pierce added.

Herbert acknowledged the mutually beneficial nature of this partnership. “The biggest voting bloc secret in New York City? Public housing,” he said. “No one has ever paid attention to them and really encouraged them to get out and vote.”

Pierce, a former child actor-turned-philanthropist who built his fortune through cryptocurrency, is a controversial figure who is reportedly being sued over alleged securities fraud and has attempted to turn Puerto Rico into a center for cryptocurrency. He said his current priority is using his own campaign for president to build out infrastructure for viable third-party candidates across the country.

“I literally know nothing about the man,” Tibbs said, referring to Pierce. “All I was told was that he was willing to feed my residents and I took it, because they’re hungry.”

Herbert emphasized that Pierce’s complex past was irrelevant; what mattered was the platform he was willing to provide to NYCHA residents. “There’s no comment when somebody wants to step up and make noise for people that have a problem,” he said. “Irrespective of the fact that he’s running for president, the fact that he thought it enough to bring his attention here, to help get this on the national conversation, that’s all we’re concerned about.”

Indeed, as temperatures continue to drop and torrential rains hit the city, NYCHA’s failure to provide heat and gas for these Upper West Siders becomes ever more dire. “People are freezing, seniors are freezing, they’re on a fixed income, they can’t afford heaters. And at nighttime it’s very cold,” Tibbs said. “For three days I’ve sent emails and calls and no one’s returning them. Hence this conference today.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, who has previously advocated for stronger tenant protections in NYCHA housing, was not present at the press conference but sent the following statement to the Rag. “As temperatures drop, NYCHA residents on sixteen brownstones at West 91st Street are without gas, heat, or hot water, leading to a dangerous and unacceptable situation,” Brewer said. “Our office has yet to receive any answers from NYCHA after we contacted them. We are continuing to reach out to NYCHA officials to alert them of the situation involving their brownstone residents. Thanks to a law I introduced, October is the start of heat season, in which all buildings must maintain temperatures at 68 degrees when temperatures fall below 55 degrees during the day, and indoor temperatures must be at a minimum of 62 degrees overnight. Building owners must also provide hot water year-round.”

NEWS | 11 comments | permalink
    1. Kathleen says:

      I wonder if Brock has ever advocated for NYCHA residents before and if he will ever again after the election. This seems like it was an opportunity for him to get his name out there and snag some votes. Sorry, but it’s hard not to be a cynic these days.

      Meanwhile the city continues to be egregiously irresponsible about these situations which seem to always exist. Get it together DeBlasio et al.

    2. Marilyn says:

      Is it DeBlasio or Mayor Trump?

    3. Ernesto Carrera says:

      The truth is always good! Cynthia
      Tibbs is the truth hear what she says and maybe we can get the right things done.!!

      • LilsC says:

        “I literally know nothing about the man.”

        Yeah, she’s sounds like a well-informed, responsible leader. These tenant have no one on their side. No one in this story comes across as actually invested in anything other than optics and that’s shameful.

        • dcsos says:

          That way, if he turns out to be Jeffrey Epstein, she can disavow her action

          • Cynthia Tibbs says:

            If he turns out to be a pedophile once again feel free to post your phone number and come over here and feed my tenants before you have another ignorant statement to give.

            I’ve never seen so many people give nasty statements that are walking around entitled bashing me when my phone rings 24/7 and none of you step up to help anybody.#shameful

        • Cynthia Tibbs says:

          I stand up for my tenants everyday, they dont call you lisa, they call me. NYCHA hasn’t reached our to feed them. If you want to criticize me feel free to post your phone number and step up to the plate!!

          • Kim Max says:

            Hi Cynthia,

            This is the first I’m hearing of the story, and wanted to say that you handled the question of whether or not you endorse him perfectly. I just want to say that I admire you and your hard work, and I hope this can get sorted out ASAP. Please let me know how people can support the tenants during this struggle.

    4. Ingrid Bermudez says:

      I am a tenant at Frederick E Samuels Apartments NYCHA Buildings, My Neighbors And I Haven’t Had Any Gas Since July We Are Facing The Same Issues. I Am So Upset That We Won’t Have A Formal Traditional Thanksgiving.

    5. UWSConcerned says:

      NYCHA housing is crumbling, but we are putting homeless men in luxury hotels. Makes sense.

    6. Cynthia Tibbs says:

      Anyone who would like to contribute food to my residents feel free to contact WSR. Anyone who who like to run against me and feels they will be a better President, come with it. Spend 1 day in my shoes fighting NYCHA, it’s a 24/7 voluntary position.