State funds tapped for lighting, safety at local NYCHA houses


Updated on March 24.

Scaffolding for repair work outside the Ft. Independence Houses has made the area so dark, one visually impaired resident said she waits outside at night until someone can help her enter the building.

Barbara Luray, vice president of the NYCHA building’s tenants association, said the situation is no better at the Ft. Independence Avenue parking lot, where “you need a flashlight to see a car because there are only two lights up.”

“We have lighting inside of the development, but it’s really dull,” she added.

Local assemblymen are tapping into a $100 million state fund for public housing improvements to add lights and make other changes at the Ft. Independence and Marble Hill Houses.

Earlier this month, northwest Bronx Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz announced $500,000 for lighting at the Fort Independence Houses and $750,000 for lighting and security improvements at four of the 11 Marble Hill Houses. Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, whose Upper Manhattan district includes part of Marble Hill, announced $500,000 for security cameras at the seven Marble Hill Houses that he represents as well as $250,000 for landscaping improvements there.

Poor lighting at NYCHA developments gained attention when a police officer fatally shot Akai Gurley in November 2014 in a dark area inside Brooklyn’s Louis H. Pink Houses. The officer was found guilty of manslaughter in that case.

Mr. Dinowitz said he moved to tap the state funds for lighting at the Ft. Independence and Marble Hill Houses after he noticed “how dark and dreary” the hallways were while campaigning during his 2014 re-election bid.

“Better lighting not only gives people the perception of safety, but it’s a reality,” he said. “[When] things are lit up more, it does improve safety.”

Three Marble Hill Houses on Exterior Street and one at 210 W. 230th St. fall within Bronx County and Mr. Dinowitz’s district, the 81st. The others are in Manhattan and part of Mr. Linares’ district, the 72nd.

“I live right next to the development,” said Mr. Linares. “It was very clear that safety is paramount and important. I don’t need to be told; I just know it.”

Recent years have seen the gradual installation of cameras with funds allocated by the three City Council members who represent the Marble Hill Houses. But Mr. Linares said he was not aware of that effort.

“Safety is outside and inside,” he remarked. “I let the experts decide [how to use the funds].”

Tenants have long complained about the pace that NYCHA acts on funding allocated by elected officials. It took more than a year for NYCHA to begin installing new stoves and refrigerators at the Ft. Independence Houses after Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera allocated the funds in 2014.

But Mr. Dinowitz and Mr. Linares said NYCHA will not be in charge of the new lighting, safety features and landscaping.

“The funding will go directly to [the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York] and they will do the work. NYCHA will work with DASNY to ensure that the project is successful, but we have no formal role in the construction,” NYCHA spokesman Isaac McGinn confirmed in an email statement.

The assemblymen said they did not know how long it would take to complete the projects. They also said details of the work remain to be seen.

Personally, I think the hallways are the top priority. The hallways, the staircases outside — we have to discuss how far the money will take us… let’s see how much each light fixture costs,” said Mr. Dinowitz, adding he expects contractors will carry out the work.

Paulette Shomo, the president of the Marble Hill Houses’ tenants’ association, welcomed the state funds.

“It just happens that both of the areas are particularly dark areas for some reason,” she said of the buildings on Exterior Street and the one on West 230th Street.

“It’s always better to have more lighting than less lighting and we want to make our developments safe,” she added.

Update: NYCHA sent a statement saying: “These new investments will improve quality of life at the Marble Hill and Fort Independence Houses, and help NYCHA create safe, clean, and connected communities for our residents. We thank the Assembly Member for his support as we work to protect and preserve public housing for future generations."

NYCHA, Marble Hill Houses, Ft. Independence Houses, Barbara Luray, Paulette Shomo, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Guillermo Linares, Shant Shahrigian