As thousands of public housing tenants shivered without heat Friday, city Controller Scott Stringer hit the New York City Housing Authority with a subpoena zeroing in on why its managers have persistently bungled tenant complaints about heat and hot water outages.
The subpoena sent to NYCHA General Counsel Kelly MacNeal demanded the authority hand over thousands of internal documents by Dec. 4 about how it dealt with all heat and hot water outages from 2016 through May.
The subpoena requires NYCHA to hand over copies of all work orders and a list of employees – who work for NYCHA or private vendors – assigned to get the heat back on. NYCHA has repeatedly resisted Stringer’s requests for the records.
“Every day we learn about a new failure at NYCHA because of decades of neglect, mismanagement and cover-ups,” Stringer said Friday.
“Following widespread heating outages last winter, our audit of NYCHA's heating systems has attempted to gather basic information from the authority, but have been met with delays and unanswered questions,” Stringer said. “NYCHA's attempts to evade accountability are disgraceful, especially as thousands of families and children continue to live without the most essential of services - heat and hot water.”
Stringer’s audit begun last winter after more than 300,000 NYCHA tenants endured at least some heat or hot water outage during the heat season — including thousands who went for days living in frigid apartments during a brutal cold snap in January.
This is the second time Stringer has been forced to deliver a subpoena demanding records. The first one went out early this month.
In the first subpoena, Stringer’s audit team demanded a list of all vendors hired to fix boilers, a list of all temporary boilers in use, and documents related to all boiler inspections. The subpoena sent Friday demanded a comprehensive list of all tenant requests for heat and hot water repairs from January 2016 through May.
Housing Authority management was universally attacked last winter for failing to stay on top of the situation as a cascading wave of heat outages swept hundreds of developments after the temperature plunged on New Year’s Day.
In response, Mayor de Blasio announced an accelerated schedule of boiler repairs that resulted in new heat systems at 12 developments by last month. New systems are expected to go on line at three more projects this month.
Nevertheless in the first three weeks of the heat season that began Oct. 1, more than 70,000 NYCHA tenants have at one point or another been hit with either heat or hot water outages.
As of mid-day Friday, more than 11,000 public housing tenants at 13 developments city-wide were dealing with some level of heat or hot water outage. Grant Houses in Harlem went 28 hours without heat as the mercury hovered in the low 20s before NYCHA was able to bring the system back on.
A notice posted in one Grant Houses lobby stated the hot water went out Tuesday. Tenants said the heat has been off and on for weeks, including through Thanksgiving. NYCHA said the heat was back on by late afternoon Friday.
“The apartment was barely heated off and on for about two weeks,” said Kelvin Blatch, 58, noting that some but not all of his apartment had heat as of Friday. “We woke this morning hoping that it would better, but it’s still the same.”
Zuliani Cespedes, 35, huddled early Friday in her living room with her mother, Altagracia Cespedes, 57, and said NYCHA workers finally came to check their heat on Friday morning around 10 a.m., more than 24 hours after temperatures dropped below freezing on Thanksgiving.
“Who would do that on Thanksgiving?” she asked. “It was horrible.”
Anticipating a Thanksgiving freeze, NYCHA General Manager Vito Mustaciuolo said he increased the on-site heat team to 62,000 and amped up coverage by private vendors to attack any outage that emerged.
Late Friday NYCHA spokeswoman Robin Levine said the team “has been diligently working around the clock on preventive measures to keep boiler plants running and to restore service to residents as quickly as possible.” Tenants were encouraged to call NYCHA’s Customer Contact Center at 718-707-7771.