Tenants fight the system, and the cold

Residents at one of the city’s biggest public housing complexes say they’re fed up with undependable heat and hot water, an extended gas outage and unresponsive management.

Maria Rodriguez waits in line to pay back rent at Patterson Houses.
Maria Rodriguez waits in line to pay back rent at Patterson Houses.

Many Patterson Houses residents are without heat, gas, hot water

Patterson Houses tenant Elvira Vargas can’t remember the last time she didn’t have to huddle under blankets with the space heater on.

“I have no heat for a long time,” said Vargas, 82, echoing a complaint tenants of the 65-year-old public housing complex in Mott Haven have been sounding for months—-and, in some cases, years. Although running an electric heater around the clock is dangerous, Vargas said, she has no choice. “I’m afraid, but if I don’t run it, I’ll die of the cold.”

Tenants at the complex that extends from 139th to 145th streets,  between Third and Morris avenues, say sporadic heat is just one problem they contend with. One building has had no gas since early January when Con Ed shut gas service as a precaution due to a gas leak. Others say there is no hot water and, when there is, the pressure is so weak the water barely trickles out.

But as much as residents complain to the management office, they say conditions aren’t getting any better. About 50 tenants gathered in the frigid lobby of 2625 Third Avenue on a frosty afternoon in early February to voice their frustration.

“I get very little heat,” said Hector Suero, 59, adding “the water is cold.”

“They only give heat in the bathroom,” said Eva Mercado, adding that, due to the gas shutoff, “we lost our stove. It’s been horrible.”

“I’m a diabetic and I need a stove for the food I have to prepare,” said Florence Hilliard.

Rosa Martinez, 67, is among the lucky ones. Her heat comes and goes. In fact, one tenant said, one room in her apartment is so hot the wallpaper is peeling, yet there is no heat in the rest of her apartment, and no hot water.

In an email, a spokeswoman for NYCHA, Zodet Negron, said the housing authority is aware of the problems at Patterson. The Housing Authority, she wrote, “is responding to and addressing heating issues that arise in its aging buildings.” With nearly 1,800 apartments spread out over 15 buildings, Patterson is one of the city’s largest NYCHA complexes in the city.

“Residents without heat/hot water are urged to call the Customer Contact Center at 718-707-7771. Heat and hot water complaints are treated as emergency repairs and are generally handled within 24 hours,” the spokeswoman wrote.

As for the gas outage, it can take “four weeks or longer to restore gas service,” Negron wrote.

Unreliable heating has persisted for years, said tenant association president Pat Simpson, adding tenants regularly call NYCHA for repairs or submit requests at Patterson’s management office, but help rarely arrives.

“All we get is promises,” said Simpson. A mobile truck had been parked in front of the building for years, she said, to help provide heat during cold spells, but it’s no longer there.

The tenant association’s sergeant-at-arms, Abraham White, 75, said he understands heating issues after a career with the city as a surveyor and building inspector.

“You gotta update these boilers,” said White, shaking his head angrily at what he says is the city’s lack of urgency. He scoffed at its spending on frivolous items, such as a barbecue pit that was recently installed between two Patterson buildings, thanks to an allocation from a City Council member. “They’re taking our money. We want them to tell us why there’s no money in the budget.”

The NYCHA spokeswoman, in her email, said that replacing the boilers at Patterson is in the cards. “It’s in our five-year Capital Plan.”

Angel Morales, right, points out problems to tenant representatives Benjamin White and Pat Simpson.
Angel Morales, right, points out problems to tenant representatives Abraham White and Pat Simpson.

At 340 Third Avenue, tenants had familiar complaints. Angel and Moraina Morales, Patterson residents for 55 years, run a space heater day and night, Angel Morales said. He frequently calls the management office to request repairs to the heating system, and when they don’t respond “you call them back, the ticket was killed.”

On other occasions, he said, workers have come when he’s been in the apartment, and left notes outside his door, stating they had come to make the requested repairs but no one was at home.

Chanette Mason, who has lived in the same fifth floor apartment at 340 Third Avenue since Patterson’s early days, says the same thing has happened to her and her neighbors.

“Most of these people be home,” she said. “Where they got to go?”

Other tenants say waiting for any kind of repairs is an exercise in futility.As Benjamin White entered the management office to complain about repairs he said hadn’t been made, his neighbor, Maria Rodriguez, 44, was walking out with paperwork in her hand. NYCHA had threatened to evict her, she said, for refusing to pay three months’ rent. Rodriguez said she had urged management to fix peeling paint, a precariously hanging light fixture and broken tiles in her apartment. Finally, she withheld November and December’s rent, she said, in protest.

“They never knock on the door, always leave a piece of paper saying they were there,” she said.

One day in January, Rodriguez found an eviction notice—-plus a $37.50 surcharge for legal fees—-on her door. She decided to pay up to avoid eviction but has received no timeline on repairs.

In her email to the Herald, Negron wrote, “Under new leadership, NYCHA has made great strides in reducing its repairs backlog and wait times,” while continuing to fix up aging buildings “in spite of shrinking resources,” adding “residents will begin to see more customer service improvements underway.”