Tenants confront public housing woes


Living in New York City public housing is no picnic — except for the rats and roaches that feast on garbage that piles up outside of buildings faster than maintenance crews can clear it. 

Then there are the broken locks on front doors, parking problems, no heat on cold nights — not to mention crime. 

The New York City Housing Authority and the Bronx Public Housing Task Force say they are doing what they can to improve safety and living conditions for residents in public housing, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Public housing developments such as Fort Independence Houses and Marble Hill Houses are no exception. While Marble Hill may not be the city’s most dangerous NYCHA development, it has no shortage of other problems, said Tony Edwards, president of the tenants association. A lifelong Marble Hill resident, Edwards believes things have gone downhill for decades.

“It’s very different now than when I was a kid,” Edwards said. “Upkeep of the neighborhood is not the same. People had a different respect of how the property should look and be cared for. Even the grass was very well manicured and you could tell the maintenance personnel put a lot of pride into their work. You could see it on the grounds — they were immaculate.”

Edwards recalled a police officer nicknamed “German” who used to patrol the neighborhood.

“He was firm, but as kids, we were a different type of kids than the kids are now,” Edwards said. “At least the kids I ran with, we showed a lot more respect for our elders.”

Now Edwards wants to bring some of that back. Of course, that means tackling issues like garbage. These days, tenants bypass garbage chutes and instead toss their trash outside the building, Edwards said, where it piles up.


Making change

“The maintenance personnel are starting to become more like sanitation workers because of the amount of garbage on the property,” Edwards said. “Oh, man, with Christmas coming up, it’s going to be a landslide.”

Mountains of garbage offer a “smorgasbord” for rats and other vermin — another constant problem, Edwards said.

But garbage and rodents aren’t the only issues. Almost every apartment door lock is broken, Edwards said. And no sooner does management repair the doors than they break again.

Then there’s a problem with illegal parking, made worse by a general shortage of spots in the neighborhood at large. Tenants can pay for permanent spots in Marble Hill lots, but outsiders not authorized to park there often snag them before tenants get home from work. 

Although tenants can call a company NYCHA hired to help oversee and control parking, it’s not always quick to respond.

“You may get somebody to pick up the phone,” Edwards said. “But as far as getting a tow truck out, that’s a different story.”

NYCHA tries to fix these problems, according to spokeswoman Jasmine Blake. For example, management posts and distributes flyers about illegal garbage dumping, an exterminator treats the grounds every two weeks in an attempt to control the rat problem, and lobby doors are checked every morning.

The problem, it seems, is that employees on the property just can’t keep up with the flood of demands arising from all of these issues at once. 

“No matter how fast they do it, they could do something at 4 o’clock, and by 6 o’clock, things start piling up all over again,” Edwards said.

Lack of funding is another obstacle. When it comes to the faulty heating system, for example, the boilers are well past their life expectancy and NYCHA faces a $17 billion backlog in capital needed to make such changes, Blake said.

Kevin Feyijinmi has lived in Marble Hill Houses since 1998, but says the community is “deteriorating.” 

One particular source of angst for Feyijinmi is a neighbor who lives directly above him, who he said is “irresponsible,” noisy, and whose toilet recently became clogged and overflowed, causing extensive damage to Feyijinmi’s apartment. The noise ceased — at least for the time being — after Feyijinmi called the 50th Precinct and complained.

But the flooding must have occurred 25 times, Feyijinmi said, and the damage was bad enough to require a call to the fire department. Now maintenance will have to repaint the ceiling. He’s even considered taking legal action against the troublesome neighbor in housing court, and he said he has “a funny feeling” the upstairs toilet flooding is affecting not just his apartment but the one below his as well.

“I’ve talked to Tony Edwards about this, and he’s going to get to the bottom of it,” Feyijinmi said. “I want to just get away from the people who’ve been creating noise, being irresponsible in their own apartment, running water.”


Light at the end

In an attempt to make things better, more than two years ago the city housing authority launched NextGeneration NYCHA, a strategic plan focused on improving the agency’s financial position, Blake said. And last year, Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., along with city council members Ritchie Torres and Vanessa Gibson, launched a task force to study safety and quality of life issues at NYCHA properties, with district attorney Darcel Clark joining later.

That task force issued a report outlining recommendations like requiring the city housing authority to better address critical repairs, expanding the city’s summer youth employment program to cover all eligible residents, and creating mental health and wellness clinics within NYCHA facilities, expanding youth programming options, and getting young people more involved in the well-being of their communities.

And still, at least at Marble Hill Houses, not everyone is complaining. Luis Rivera has lived there for 15 years, and is actually quite happy.

“They maintain the building,” Rivera said in Spanish. “Thank God, I’ve never had any problem with the office, or anything. It’s always been good — everything is good, papá.”