More than 450 NYCHA tenants and leaders gathered at Our Lady of Mercy last night to say, as Nancy Baptiste from St. Paul put it, "Enough!" The room was electric with anger and energy.
Father Mason began by putting our fight to clean up NYCHA in the context of a larger 35-year struggle to rebuild our neighborhoods. We've made great progress but we are not finished yet.
Leader after leader testified about moldy ceilings, huge leaky holes, giant water bugs, and the damage these cause to their health. "My apartment is making me sick," said Tawana Myers, who is recovering from two open-heart surgeries. "Let me breathe. Get some people to my apartment and my neighbors' apartments and start making the repairs."
Michell Hernandez, a young leader from Mercy, held up her family's nebulizer machine that she, her father and mother must use to breathe at night because the mold is so thick in their apartment. She implored NYCHA to stop using paint to treat their mold. "If my apartment were a patient at a hospital run by the New York City Housing Authority, it would be dead. Dead." Get in there, she added, and find the source of the leak and treat it properly.
Reverend Bachus recalled with anger at witnessing a member of Mt. Ollie have an asthma attack at church. "You're health should not be determined by the address that you are from. But it is for many people who live in NYCHA."
You could feel the tension as Carlos Laboy-Diaz approached the microphone. Laboy-Diaz is NYCHA's VP for Operations and supervises the borough directors, including Brooklyn's Philip Calandrillo. Reverend Brawley and Nyginer Brewer laid it out to Laboy-Diaz clearly: this is a test and it's pass or fail. To pass, you've got to commit to make the more than 400 repairs that we have spent weeks documenting and investigating, and too many years living.
Laboy-Diaz quickly withdrew into NYCHA babble about how much progress they've made over the last year. Reverend Brawley cut him off, "You're not answering our question. You've failed the first test. Let's start over." The back and forth continued for almost 10 minutes until finally Laboy-Diaz begrudgingly agreed to stop the leaks, repairs the walls, paint the living rooms and send the exterminators to almost 150 apartments.
Laboy-Diaz has made commitments like this before to our allies at South Bronx Churches and then failed to deliver. It's up to us to make him and Calandrillo follow through. Next Monday, we'll lead a joint tour of a handful of these apartments so they can see first hand what tenants are living with.
Both teams -- the one up front and the larger one throughout the church -- did an excellent job together. We had a good mix of new and veteran leaders and churches, and great anger and energy. Congratulations to everyone who has spent the last 6 months meeting other church and school members; organizing house meetings and listening sessions; and finding scores of talented leaders willing to do the work to continue the rebuilding.