NYCHA residents meet with their ‘landlord’

Millbrook Houses tenant Trudy Ice says building management has failed to fix a leak in her floor that is damaging her kitchen in a year.

Millbrook Houses tenant Trudy Ice is one of scores of NYCHA residents who complained to housing officials at a March 16 meeting that management isn’t taking care of major building problems, like a leak under her floor that has damaged her kitchen.

Tenants tell NYCHA chair they’re tired of waiting for repairs

Residents from several Mott Haven NYCHA complexes vented their frustrations over dismal living conditions and slow service to a high-ranking housing official at a March 16 meeting at Millbrook Houses. But although the Housing Authority’s chairwoman addressed them in person for an hour and fielded residents’ questions, few of those in attendance walked away confident anything is going to change in their crumbling homes.

Over 100 tenants from Millbrook and other area complexes packed into Millbrook’s community room on 137th Street to hear Mayor Bill de Blasio’s head of public housing, Shola Olatoye. While their boss spoke, NYCHA workers in an adjacent room registered tenants’ complaints about specific problems in their apartments, ranging from mold, leaks and peeling paint to rats and unresponsive management.

“They’re not leaving until we get every last complaint,” Millbrook’s tenant president Princella Jamerson promised the restless crowd before the officials took the mic.

Olatoye attempted to defuse tenants’ anger and minimize expectations, blaming the deterioration of their buildings on a shortfall in federal funding over the years.

“There’s been a systematic disinvestment in public housing,” she told them. “It will cost $16 billion to get all of these buildings into a proper state of repair. Most of these buildings are over 60 years old.” And yet, she added, “no white horse is going to be coming from Washington.”

Still, she conceded, the Housing Authority is a landlord, with responsibilities to its renters. “We have to do that better,” she said.

Millbrook was one of three complexes across the city NYCHA has selected to participate in Op Mom, a pilot project designed to expedite repairs and improve communication between tenants and staff. A property management official for the Authority, Kevin Norman, said participation in the program will require managers to keep their budgets transparent, something critics say NYCHA badly needs to do.

“Property managers never knew how much money was there,” Norman said. “In Op Mom, they do.”

But, said Jamerson, the pilot program limits the repairs tenants can request adding she has seen no improvement in repairs so far.

Despite those assurances, an agitated buzz filled the room when the speakers had finished their updates.

“Our apartments are in a state of disrepair. It takes weeks and months for plastering and painting,” said Gail Jackson Kelly, a longtime Millbrook resident, who said she had lost $1000 worth of clothing and memorabilia over the  years, due to leaks in her closets maintenance workers had only patched up, rather than fixing. Several tenants complained that maintenance workers routinely come to their apartments in response to repair requests, but instead of knocking, they leave notes outside tenants’ doors, informing residents that they were there, then leave hastily to avoid doing the work.

Millbrook’s tenant leader, Jamerson, said her complex had the highest number of tickets of any complex in the city, which prompted a task force to be formed to deal with the problem, but nothing has changed.

“It makes people feel that they waste their time,” she told Olatoye. “We want to see some change and we hope you can help us achieve that.”

But, said Olatoye, without more funding, changes will be slow to arrive and repairs will amount to patchwork fixes.

“I have that issue across 300 of my developments,” she said. “It is not a good answer but it’s all I can give you.”

One ray of hope, she said, involves a pending proposal for $300 million in federal funding the Authority recently submitted to Washington as part of the Choice Neighborhood program. If the federal government chooses NYCHA’s proposal to invest in upgrades to infrastructure and services in Mott Haven, she said, the whole neighborhood will benefit.

But many in the crowd were unhappy when Olatoye announced that the city plans to unload a Millbrook Houses parking lot to private developers to build more housing.

“They’re pricing us out,” said Arnaldo Arzu, 39, a resident of Patterson Houses after the meeting. “It’s happening in other cities. We know NYCHA to be a slumlord.”

Millbrook resident Trudy Ice, 66, called the chairwoman’s attempts to keep tenants’ hopes up “a big farce.”

“They’re trying to get rid of us so they can bring in these rich people,” said Ice, a retired Adult and Children Services caseworker, who says she spent decades organizing her fellow Millbrook tenants to speak out for improved living conditions, before giving up. Ice said there has been a leak in the kitchen floor of her sixth floor apartment for the past year but during two prior visits maintenance workers have plastered the damaged kitchen wall rather than find and fix the root problem.

She said she is considering moving to North Carolina to live with her son.

“I would love to stay in New York if I had decent housing, but I am tired,” she said.