Saturday, December 22, 2018

No Heat in NYC Public Housing

What do you do when your furnace doesn't work? Well if you own your own home then you will spend money to fix it. But if you rent your living space then your reasonable expectation (assuming that the landlord has responsibility for heat) is that your landlord will fix the malfunctioning furnace. 

If the landlord shows that he is incapable of fixing the furnace, won't fix the furnace from spite, or won't fix the furnace because he wants you to move, then you would probably stop paying the rent and/or sue the landlord. If you were a younger more excitable respect obsessed person you might even appear at your landlord's place of business to take a more "hands-on" approach to the discussion. Whatever you decide to do it's pretty clear that the landlord is breaking the deal that both of you signed. You pay rent. He provides a livable space for the agreed period of time. It's not a complicated relationship.

But this relationship doesn't work for everybody. If you are poor and black (or poor and hispanic or even poor and white) the system is not designed to work for you. Most middle class or upper class people would raise holy hell if they lived in a place without heat. Systems are created so that that doesn't happen. But when you lack money people with power don't expeditiously respond to your complaints. And tragically many poor people learn not to bother complaining.

Evelyn and Franklin Badia’s wish of qualifying for a public housing apartment became a reality in 2011 after eight years of waiting.  Then it got cold outside. Inside, too. The heat in their apartment — owned by the New York City Housing Authority, also known as Nycha — didn’t work that winter, or any winter after, they said.

When temperatures drop, the family brings out small electric space heaters, which they purchased, and duct tapes the edges of their windows to no avail. On the chilliest nights, the parents snuggle in one bed with their 6 and 11-year-old daughters, whose asthma worsens as a result of the cold temperatures. 

Living conditions for the 100-or-so residents of the Eagle Avenue apartments are emblematic of sweeping neglect by Nycha, the landlord for the nearly 400,000 people in public housing which has been accused of malfeasance, mismanagement and of mishandling the removal of lead paint and mold from its apartments. Residents from more than two dozen households in the 36-unit walk-up on Eagle Avenue between 158th and 161st Streets told the The New York Times that repeated complaints about inadequate heat have gone unheeded by Nycha, their landlord. 

A reporter visited 27 apartments, many of them on multiple occasions, over a five-day span this month, as outside temperatures hovered in the 30s. 

In most homes, the living room and bedroom heaters sat cold. Some dispensed faint, lukewarm air that residents said did not keep their dwellings warm, especially at night. Work orders submitted to Nycha to address heating issues were either closed out without explanation or went unaddressed by workers, the residents said. Many got discouraged and stopped complaining. 

Every winter, Wanda Agee covers her television stand in bright-red wrapping paper to make it resemble a chimney: “Wishful thinking.” “I haven’t had heat for 12 years,” said Ms. Agee, a pre-K teacher who has lived with her husband, Larry, a hotel maintenance worker, in a two-bedroom apartment in the building since 1986. “We’ve been waiting.” 

Ms. Agee has stopped submitting work orders and makes do by covering her windows with plastic tarps and garbage bags and using four space heaters. Her monthly electricity bills can be as high as $300, she said.STORY

As we've recently seen in France sometimes the best way to force change, indeed the only way to force change, is to utterly disrupt the currently existing system. Even poor people deserve to have working heat in the apartment that they are renting. Perhaps rent strikes and other direct actions are what is required. It's disgusting that some people are so beaten down and discouraged that they accept that they just won't have heat. This also has political implications. People who accept poor quality in their social and economic relations are primed to do the same in the political marketplace. But people who stand up for themselves and fight for a better life in one arena will often do the same in another.
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