By Joy Bergmann
Long before Tuesday’s fire at 133 W. 90th Street injured seven people, residents of Wise Towers had been sounding alarms about their new property managers, PACT Renaissance Collaborative [PRC], a private company with a long-term NYCHA contract to renovate, maintain and manage 16 developments, including Wise Towers.
“I’m just livid,” Gale Brewer told WSR Tuesday afternoon. “What is NYCHA doing to pay attention to this company?”
Brewer, the current Manhattan Borough President and incoming UWS City Council Member, says that since PRC started working at Wise in December 2020, her office has received an outpouring of tenant complaints.
In August, Brewer outlined many of the concerns in a four-page letter to NYCHA Chair Gregory Russ, including: “construction problems, maintenance of common areas, rude staff, no returned calls, not enough staff, unsupervised construction workers, no follow up, last minute workplan changes and miscommunication (no Spanish speaking staff).”
To date, Brewer says, NYCHA has not responded to her letter.
In November, Council Member Helen Rosenthal told NY1 a similar story about PRC’s work at Wise. “I’ve never heard my tenants say they’ve been treated so badly,” Rosenthal said. PRC says it has worked to improve conditions at Wise, including completing nearly 2,900 repairs (a longer response from the company is below).
While the cause of Tuesday’s fire is still under investigation by FDNY, Brewer and Wise Towers tenants say PRC’s performance has not fostered trust.
Brewer says she toured the development a few weeks ago and saw garbage piled up and improperly handled. “If that’s an indicator of how one does maintenance, it’s a very bad indicator.”
WSR spoke with several NYCHA residents outside the property Tuesday afternoon.
“Our lives were in jeopardy,” said Ariella Gil, a 10th floor resident who says a missing door on a trash chute allowed fire and heavy smoke to pour into her hallway, making escape impossible. Gil says the door fell off on Christmas Eve and that residents filed an “emergency ticket” to have it repaired.
Gil says she documented the subsequent fire damage and says she saw a worker she believed to be a PRC employee attempt to put cardboard over the chute opening on Tuesday. “That’s hazardous!” She says she directed the worker to retrieve the original metal door from a nearby janitor’s closet to proceed with repairs. A PRC spokesperson did not respond to questions about Gil’s account of the repair.
“They’re not doing their job right,” says Carmen, a 16th floor resident who’s lived in the building her entire life, 40 years. “It’s ridiculous. We never had these problems [under NYCHA management]. Just ever since they [PRC] showed up.”
“It’s terrible. You can’t go into the office, they don’t let you in,” says Dorothy Holohan, a 56-year resident of a neighboring Wise Towers building. “They don’t listen…they’re cutting back on heat.”
“It’s a fiasco,” says Cynthia Tibbs, a long-time NYCHA tenant leader on the Upper West Side. “When tenants start to say they want NYCHA back, and NYCHA’s supposed to be the biggest slumlord? PRC is now taking that place.”
PRC’s contract is part of NYCHA’s ongoing initiative to shift management of its complexes via the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) and Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) programs. RAD and PACT are U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) efforts to preserve public housing; following renovations, public housing tenants are converted to voucher-based Section 8 rental assistance programs.
Brewer says that in the short term she wants FDNY to get to the bottom of the fire’s cause. Long-term, she says, “we need heavy oversight of PRC. If they’re not handling this conversion properly, we need to find another company.”
WSR asked NYCHA to respond to these allegations and to describe how they intend to improve the situation. A spokesperson replied by email, “NYCHA is working with our PACT management partners to address resident concerns. This matter is currently under investigation.”
WSR also sent detailed questions to PRC’s management.
Regarding the fire and how PRC is assisting affected residents, a PRC spokesperson responded:
“We are grateful to the Fire Department for the speed and professionalism with which they brought Tuesday’s fire under control. PRC is working closely with the FDNY and Fire Marshall to determine the cause of the fire, and our non-profit partner, CLOTH, is providing support to impacted residents while our team addresses damage to apartments and common areas. We also are conducting an internal review of management and maintenance protocols, including to identify ways to minimize risk of similar incidents moving forward.”
The emailed statement continued:
“As a team of mission-driven partners with leadership and team members who grew up in public housing, we are deeply committed to improving the quality of life for residents at Wise Towers and other Manhattan NYCHA developments. In just over a year, PRC has introduced new social services, expanded the way tenants can communicate with property management, completed nearly 2,900 repairs, and renovated more than 360 kitchens and bathrooms at Wise Towers.
While decades of deferred maintenance will not be completed overnight, PRC is focused on continuing to earn the trust of residents by following through on our commitment to address both the needs that existed prior to our assuming management in December 2020 and those that arise moving forward.”
When is Gale Brewer not “Livid”.
Seriously, Veronica? Do you know Gale? She’s a very even tempered person.
Gale Brewer and the other insanely entrenched, do-nothing politicians will never create the changes so desperately needed. I cannot comprehend how voters keep reelecting them.
You have no idea what you’re talking about. She has been
Effective and helpful to this neighborhood as it further gentrifies there’s not an issue that she doesn’t care about deeply that affects her Constituency. We should all be thankful and grateful for her and that she has taken on the task of being our council person again.
Thank you Gale Brewer and Helen Rosenthal. These new management arrangements need to be kept in the public eye – and if they can’t do a good job on a site like Wise Towers, they need to operate differently or be removed from the job. There are some great things about those buildings, and some really terrible things too. They are also important housing for a lot of vulnerable people.
NYCHA is bad, really bad but turning public housing over to a for profit managment company was not the resolution the City or the tenants need. It was a nice giveaway to cronies.
The point, in the long term, is to destroy NYC public housing, so connected developers can have (for a very low price) the land and rights to build there.
This is especially true of public housing in the now well off neighborhoods of the West 90s and Chelsea.
I appreciate Gale Brewer’s office for helping with an issue to make an apartment accessible for a handicapped tenant. Her office will even help suggest other options to get your needs met. If we in Wise Towers didn’t have her to turn to, we would be more vulnerable to PACT and their disregard for tenants and their rights. We also need assistance with the rat issues. These rats are so large and they’re frightening to pass to get to the building. There’s nothing being done to get rid of them. We’re afraid they will be entering the building to do real damage.
This is down the block from me. Thank you Gale for saying something and you should be livid!!
I see NYCHA hired BATH FITTER to just cover the tubs and tiles in the bathroom. I guarantee they did not remove mold before doing so.
Typical NYCHA BS.