The sign welcoming visitors to the Frederick Douglass Houses says “A Wonderful Community,” but for resident Lillie Jamison, there’s nothing “wonderful” about her housing situation.
Jamison, a young mother of one with another baby on the way, said that her apartment is not only in poor physical condition but also hazardous to her and her children’s health.
“I’m pregnant and living with asbestos,” she said. “Not only that, but we have old tiling and haven’t had a paint job in years.”
Jamison’s complaints are not new. At a Community Board 7 housing meeting in September, residents spoke of maintenance problems, such as broken refrigerators and unusable plumbing fixtures, that have been left unaddressed by the New York City Housing Authority, which handles maintenance at the 17-building complex centered around 100th Street and Columbus Avenue.
Residents said they would submit “tickets,” the forms used to request repairs, only to have them ignored or to hear that it would take years for their problems to be addressed.
In response, CB7’s housing committee held a joint meeting Jan. 10 with NYCHA representatives and tenants association presidents from several of the public housing complexes located on the Upper West Side, including Douglass.
“It was the housing committee and tenants association presidents firing questions at NYCHA,” CB7 housing committee chair Victor Gonzalez said. “Once they answered us to our satisfaction, people in the audience asked questions.”
Gonzalez said one of the main issues that emerged was the shortcomings of the Centralized Call Center, where residents are instructed to call whenever they have a maintenance request.
“One of the complaints was timely repairs,” Gonzalez said. “People were calling in clogged shower heads for example. But when the plumber would come in, they would break the wall for the shower head, resulting in a whole new problem.”
Gonzalez said that initiatives to solve the issue are in the works, including working with City Council member Gale Brewer to find ways to expedite responses to “child work orders”—problems that stem from an attempt to fix an original problem—by allowing residents to link their complaints, instead of having to call them in as separate issues.
But although it has been over a month since that meeting, Jamison said that she hasn’t heard anything more about fixing the problems.
“I didn’t even know about this meeting or else I would’ve went,” she said of the January meeting. “When I last called the CCC, I was told I have a ticket for 2012. When I called again about replacing the poles in the shower, I never got a response at all.”
NYCHA public relations assistant Brent Grier said the agency is trying its best to address maintenance problems in the 2,604 buildings it serves, but that low funding makes it difficult.
“The Authority respects and understands our residents’ frustration over the current backlog of repair and maintenance work,” Grier wrote in an email statement. “While the needs are great in most of NYCHA’s developments, the reality is that buildings that are 40 to 70 years old are aging structures that require a great deal of repair, for which the Authority receives inadequate funding.”
Grier added that NYCHA is developing a five-year plan to address the buildings’ preservation.
“It will serve as a vital road map for addressing our current maintenance and repair backlog, as well as other challenges in the future,” he wrote in the email.
Resident Vivian Brown, who is currently staying with a friend in Douglass, said those promises jar with her daily reality of continually neglected maintenance work.
“They don’t do your repairs,” she said. “The walls need to be covered and plastered, but they [building management] don’t respond to your calls. It’s also the elevators—they need to be cleaned and fixed more.”
“But I can’t complain, because I’m not the one on the lease,” she added.
Douglass resident Shirley Poindexter, however, said she’s never had to complain.
“The building seems to be kept pretty well,” she said. “The cleaning lady who maintains the building does a very good job in my opinion.”
Resources are available for residents to deal with ongoing maintenance issues, said Jane Wisdom, president of Douglass Tenants Association, but residents aren’t making full use of them.
“People need to call me, because I make sure things get done,” Wisdom said. “We all have to work together, because if I don’t know about the issues, then I can’t do my job. If management doesn’t respond or do what they have to do, then I go to the politicians.”