by Greg McQueen for The Bronx Free Press
May 16, 2018
It was a tour of worse.
Councilmember Rafael Salamanca shook his head in disgust as he surveyed the abundant mold dominating the ceilings and walls of Norma Nazario’s apartment at Melrose Houses.
Nazario showed Salamanca mold, peeling paint and ceiling leaks in her kitchen and bathroom, as well as a broken living room light.
“This is the way my constituents are living. It’s unacceptable,” remarked Salamanca.
His May 14 visit was part of an inspection tour of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments, designed to provide Councilmembers a closeup look at public housing conditions as they push for $2 billion in the city budget for NYCHA improvements.
“There is mold all over my home,” said Nazario. “This has been going on for a year.”
Nazario said she has put in five repair requests tickets with NYCHA regarding mold but so far nothing has been corrected.
She noted that her building lost heat during some of the coldest days of the winter, and would sometimes remain without heat for two days at a time.
“I put on overcoats to stay warm,” she said.
The visit was arranged by South Bronx Churches (SBC), an affiliate of Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (Metro IAF), a coalition of church groups, schools and homeowners focused on improving city housing.
Rev. Francis Skelly of SBC, whose congregation at nearby Immaculate Conception church includes many Melrose House tenants, has been working with residents to help get NYCHA to address their issues.
“Working with NYCHA is frustrating. It’s very hard to stay at it because the progress is so slow,” Skelly said. “You’ve got 400,000 people living in NYCHA. That’s a city in itself that needs to be taken care of.”
In response to Salamanca’s visit, NYCHA spokeswoman Jasmine Blake issued the following statement, “We always welcome people to tour NYCHA as it presents an opportunity to better understand our residents and the realities of our financial struggles.”
At a rally near Melrose Houses, Salamanca and SBC members asked Mayor Bill de Blasio to approve additional funding for NYCHA, including $950 million for boiler repairs and heating equipment technology, $1 billion annually for ongoing capital needs, as well as $500 million to begin construction of 15,000 new affordable apartments for seniors on NYCHA land.
Maria Ortiz, a resident of Union Houses, said her apartment has leaking ceilings and lacks heat. She once shared the apartment with her daughter, who died from cancer three years ago.
“My daughter died tolerating the cold, because she was sick and we didn’t have heat,” Ortiz remarked as she fought back tears. “She was fighting cancer, and she had to deal with rats and roaches.”
Ortiz, who said she spent $800 on electric heaters this past winter due to the heating issues, insisted she would fight for NYCHA improvements, as her grandchildren continue to live with her.
“We need action, so that my grandchildren won’t be victims of the same negligence,” she said.
“If NYCHA would have performed basic maintenance on these apartments, I am sure that you would not be living in these conditions,” Salamanca said.
He referred to NYCHA as “the biggest slumlord in the city of New York,” and urged de Blasio to take action.
“Mayor de Blasio, this is your legacy,” he stated. “The only way to address these issues is to allocate the appropriate funding in this year’s budget so that we can begin the work.”
However, several advocates at the rally clutched anti-de Blasio signs and professed lack of faith in the mayor to fix NYCHA’s problems.
“What’s the difference between Santa Claus and the mayor? There are still people who believe in Santa Claus,” quipped Soraya, a member of SBC.
“For too long, we know that people in NYCHA are living with mold, with lead, with roaches, with lack of heat, and this is simply unjust,” she added.
The press conference was held in front of an underused NYCHA lot Skelly said could be used to build senior housing.
“Seniors around here might be living in NYCHA, but can’t move because they can’t afford the rents,” he said. “This would allow them to find better housing in their same neighborhood.”
Skelly said SBC and Metro IAF were planning leadership training sessions to teach NYCHA tenants how to organize.
“Our power is not money. Our power is people,” he stated. “There are many people who have given up and figure nothing’s going to get done, so we need to teach them what they can do.”