NYCHA tenants cope with aftermath of flooding

Beatrice Dickerson lives one floor below where flooding began in the Morrisania Air Rights complex. Water that leaked from the walls has created black mold, and holes in the walls, leaving room for cockroaches to crawl out.

A month later, tenants deal with mold and bureaucratic delays

A burst pipe on the floor above hers sent water dripping from the crevices of Beatrice Dickerson’s ceiling in August, flooding her Morrisania Air Rights apartment with more than two inches of water. A month later, Dickerson, 76, said the damage has made her home nearly unlivable.

A few days after the flooding, Dickerson bought a cheap plaster kit to fill in a big hole in her bedroom wall, caused by water that had seeped inside. She painted over the plaster, but the color noticeably differs from the rest of the wall. There are smaller holes in her bathroom, crafting an entrance for cockroaches, she said. The whole unit smells like black mold.

More than a month after faulty pipes flooded a building in the Housing Authority complex for four consecutive days, residents, tenant leaders and elected officials are unnerved with the way NYCHA has handled the crisis.

“It’s stalled my life,” said Dickerson, who has lived in the complex since 2005. “NYCHA told me they’d come and fix it, but they’ll just put a bandaid on it. It didn’t used to be awful living here, but it is now.”  

The building housed mostly seniors, many of whom still have black mold in their walls since the flooding. Others say their light switches have stopped working and the tiles on their floors are uprooted. To add insult to injury, NYCHA has not processed their reimbursement forms for damages to property like television sets, rugs and speakers, they add. 

“You’re not supposed to get old and live like this,” said Angela Davis, a resident and former tenant association vice president. 

NYCHA just recently began fixing the decrepit pipes that caused the flooding, according to tenant president Chaney Yelverton. Contractors will have to tear out an entire wall of the building, a task that will require them to carry out one apartment at a time while residents are still living in the units, he said. NYCHA did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

However, State Senator Luis Sepulveda, who visited the complex during the time that the flooding was occurring, said NYCHA was responsive in providing residents with water and food. Residents add that NYCHA also installed stair lifts to help elderly tenants get down the stairwell while the elevators were broken. It’s unclear how many lifts or how much NYCHA paid for them. Commercially, one stair lift costs upwards of $1,000.

“I want to be fair to NYCHA this time,” Sepulveda said. “I believe that they’ve been relatively responsive when the political leadership calls.”

It remains unclear whether residents will receive rent abatements for the days during which flooding took place, or when they will be reimbursed for damaged property. 

“The honest truth here is that NYCHA is broken,” said Councilman Rafael Salamanca. One of the Morrisania buildings Air Rights buildings is in his district. The other two are in Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson’s district. “The ripple effect that this has now is the roofs are falling, the walls are falling apart, pipes are bursting.”

Leaks began Sunday, Aug. 19 on the 20th floor of the Morrisania building on Park Avenue, Yelverton said. The next day, a broken pipe on the 17th floor caused a waterfall through the stairwell, WABC reported. On Tuesday, Yelverton said residents awoke to more flooding on the 12th floor. Wednesday, he said thieves attempted to steal a washing machine on the 17th floor, prompting another flood.

 “You get out your bed and your eyes are still closed and you step into a puddle of water,” said resident Kay Marshall, 27. “It can really ruin you. Like, ‘Come on, I didn’t ask for this today.’” 

According to Yelverton, NYCHA workers turned off water for the entire building to stop the first round of flooding, because some valves were mislabeled. When NYCHA turned all of the water back on at once, he added, the water pressure was so high that it exposed cracks in pipes on other floors. 

Marshall, who said he carried older residents up and down the stairs when elevators were broken, said that tenants, political representatives, and even the housing authority came together in those days.

“I like to think on the positive side; this is God washing away all of this building’s sins,” Marshall said. “There’s a lot of nonsense going on. I guess God was ready to clean it out.”