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Sandy Left Scars on Housing, Report Says

By Laura Kusisto
March 11, 2014

Many of the city’s public-housing residents continue to struggle with mold, leaks and balky heat in buildings damaged by superstorm Sandy 16 months ago.

Other continuing issues include inconsistent hot water and leaky roofs, according to a report set to be released Wednesday by a coalition of community and tenant activists and interviews with residents.

The report illustrates challenges faced by the New York City Public Housing Authority as it works to ensure that its buildings—about 15% of which were damaged by the October 2012 storm—can withstand natural disasters.

“There was always a waiting time [for repairs]. It would be months, it would be years. After the storm it just really went out the window,” said Alisa Pizarro, a 45-year-old community organizer at Red Hook Initiative who lives with two daughters and her grandson in Red Hook public housing.

Ms. Pizarro said water was leaking into her unit through the brick facade, and the new, temporary boiler installed after Sandy had broken repeatedly, leaving residents without heat or hot water.

She doesn’t have an outstanding repair order, but said she mentioned the leakage issue to city officials at a meeting about four years ago, before the storm, and most recently on Monday.

Housing-authority officials said many such issues arose in the early weeks after Sandy, but they have worked to tackle them quickly. They did work on mold in 5,400 units after the storm, and continue to address mold issues within a week. “I do recognize some of the problems that are identified and they are real, there’s no question, but I do believe they occurred more contemporaneously as opposed to in the last six months,” said Cecil House, NYCHA’s general manager.

The report was led by Community Voices Heard, an advocacy group for low-income people, with the support of a Sandy rebuilding coalition of about 45 unions, community groups, legal-advocacy organizations and tenant activists. They surveyed some 600 residents of housing-authority buildings in areas rocked by Sandy, including Red Hook, Coney Island and Far Rockaway.

When Sandy swept the city’s coastal areas, it damaged more than more than 400 public-housing buildings with about 80,000 residents. Because primarily first-floor apartments flooded, it seemed the storm’s impact should recede when the lights came back on. But increased moisture exacerbated existing mold and leak problems and drew attention to crumbling facades and leaky roofs, according to the report.

“I think of Sandy not only as a natural disaster but as an exposé of a man-made neglect of public housing,” said Bronx City Councilman Ritchie Torres, chair of the council’s Committee on Public Housing.

Researchers found that 40% of respondents had new repair needs as a result of the storm. About a third of residents said their apartments flood or leak because of Sandy. Before Sandy, about 35% of residents said they had visible mold in their apartments; that has risen to 45%, the report said.

“Before the storm, I’d gotten a little bit of mold. I called and by the time they got here was on the ceiling, on the floor, in the closet,” said Jose Maldonado, 41, a single father who lives in Gravesend Houses in Coney Island. Mr. Maldonado said that initially a repairman painted over the mold, but it came back, so they treated it with chemicals. It has returned, he said.

He doesn’t have an outstanding repair order, but he said after the meeting Monday, NYCHA repair workers are planning to come by his apartment Wednesday to look at the mold issue.

Vernell Robinson, a resident of Carleton Manor in Far Rockaway, said mold was in the public spaces in her building: “There is fluid oozing out of the wall that is yellow and white.”

Residents and activists met Monday with city officials, including Mr. House and Michael DeLoach, who works for the mayor’s Intergovernmental Affairs office on Sandy issues.

To read the full article, visit Wall Street Journal.