A miscommunication between NYCHA and Wavecrest Property Management over medical accommodations has left residents with respiratory conditions without AC units for months during renovations at Betances Houses in Mott Haven.
Betances is the second property in the city to be transferred from NYCHA to Wavecrest Management under RAD, or the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. The initiative taps private developers to manage and make nearly $31 million dollars in repairs in NYCHA’s deteriorating housing stock by late 2021, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.
With renovations underway, Wavecrest removed residents’ air conditioning units this summer because they no longer fit new fire code compliant window frames. However, for many residents with respiratory issues, those AC units were vital to their ability to breathe.
Noemi Perez, 47, a lifelong resident of Betances, relies on an extra AC unit in her apartment due to severe asthma, granted to her through NYCHA’s medical accommodation policy.
But during window renovations this summer, Perez’s AC unit was removed by construction workers despite her medical accommodation. Along with two seniors with documented respiratory issues on her floor, her AC unit has yet to be replaced.
“We were told by management if we mess up the frame with our AC units, we’re going to get charged $1,300 to replace the window,” Perez said.
Perez says her asthma was documented by NYCHA prior to the RAD conversion. But after her AC unit was removed and she brought the issue to Wavecrest’s attention, she was told they had no record of her medical accommodation.
“I have the letter with me on file. And I showed it to management. They said, NYCHA didn’t surrender this,’” she said.
Wavecrest claims they were unaware of the impact of removing the AC units because NYCHA failed to provide them with a list of residents with documented medical conditions or special accommodations upon conversion of the property.
The Wavecrest representative, in an email, then clarified to the Mott Haven Herald that NYCHA did provide a list of wheel-chair bound residents and those with life-sustaining equipment, but no information regarding special air conditioning accommodations was included.
NYCHA has a different take. Chief communications officer Barbara Brancaccio says that as part of the RAD conversion process, Wavecrest was provided access to the tenant files and an opportunity to copy any information within them.
“Nothing is being withheld,” said Brancaccio.
The bureaucratic oversight between NYCHA and Wavecrest has left residents to surrender their own information through legal aid to prove they have documented special accommodations, Perez said.
Wavecrest claims they are in frequent communication with residents and became aware of the issue at a Betances tenant meeting on September 18. However, another Betances resident, Dante Jenkins, says his mother complained to Wavecrest about her AC unit being removed in July.
“They told her they would put a gate over her window and she refused. She asked, ‘how will I get air?’” Jenkins says.
In the meantime, Wavecrest officials say the company is working on solutions to provide air conditioning units for residents that both fit in the new windows and comply with city fire codes.
“We are looking at a few possibilities including offering a credit to those who have AC units registered on their leases to obtain a new AC unit that fits the windows, as well as investigating how we can adapt our scope to include AC unit casings in the walls,” said a spokeswoman at RDC Development, which is composed of Wavecrest Management and MDG Design and Construction.
RDC, she added in an email, “has conducted inspections to understand how many apartments are impacted by the smaller window frames and fire-escape obstruction. They will be offering an exchange for any resident (medical condition or not) that had an air conditioner that no longer fits in the new window frame. RDC is purchasing new AC units for all those impacted and will provide the exchange.
“For the bedrooms that have windows directly leading to fire escapes where an AC unit would violate egress standards,” she added, “we have sent out a notice that if there are any medical concerns, they can come to the office with documentation of the condition and they will work directly with each resident to find an appropriate resolution.”
Until that happens, Perez says that she and Betances seniors with respiratory issues have been told to rely on the building fans instead.“
The story was updated on Oct. 21.