Photo: Sarah Grile. The Andrew Jackson Houses on Courtlandt Ave.

Approach of winter raises questions about heat in NYCHA complexes

On Oct. 1, Day One of the 2020 heating season, Danny Barber was worried.

“The issues started already,” said Barber, president of the tenants association for NYCHA’s Jackson Houses in Melrose.

Residents and building officials are worried about the Housing Authority’s ability to handle an influx of work orders as the heating season continues. They say NYCHA’s record has been spotty and worry about what will happen if there is a harsh winter. 

Barber, who also heads the NYCHA tenants group Citywide Council of Presidents, recalls that residents lost hot water for two days throughout Jackson’s seven-building development in April. It wasn’t until this fall that NYCHA officials notified residents of the complex that they would conduct a routine cleaning of the hot water tank on Oct. 1.

Pat Simpson, tenant representative for Patterson Houses in Mott Haven, says the stress on NYCHA’s work order response system worries her every day.

“I’m telling them to test the heaters and radiators before this cold, cold weather come in,” said Simpson in a phone interview. “You can do it now when it’s not a big problem.”

Barber and Simpson expect the issues to continue throughout the heating season, which runs through May 2021.

The office of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer performed an audit of NYCHA’s heating and boiler facilities last Spring, and concluded that NYCHA has no way to track how many in-progress work orders are open at any given time.

“Our audit in June shined a light on NYCHA’s failure to properly manage and resolve heating complaints and the agency’s inability to track what’s broken and what’s not,” Stringer said in the report. “NYCHA tenants must have heating complaints promptly addressed and resolved to keep warm – this is non-negotiable.”

The audit makes recommendations for NYCHA to prepare for the heating season, including independently confirming that individual work orders are closed properly and analyzing feedback from residents.

NYCHA agreed to three of his office’s recommendations, according to the Comptroller’s office. In an email response to The Herald, a NYCHA communications officer downplayed the concern that more residents at home due to the pandemic is not a reason to fear the worst. 

“While more people at home could increase the unit work orders, we are confident that our preparations will not result in a significant increase in service disruptions due to that cause,” said the spokesperson. However, new technology at Jackson Houses could lead to some disruptions, the spokesperson added. 

“We do anticipate an increase in heat complaints from residents in buildings with newly installed heating systems controlled by indoor apartment temperature sensors,” the spokesperson added.