Public Housing Recovering Slowly From Sandy’s Wrath

May 01, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Host Rafael Pi Roman follows up with an interview with New York City Housing Authority General Manager Cecil House about what’s ahead for the agency and its tenants, as well as lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy.

Public Housing took quite a hit from Superstorm Sandy and housing officials are already thinking about ways to improve resiliency.

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism students Jon Gerberg and Kristen Reed visited a public housing complex called Alfred E. Smith Houses on the Lower East Side to assess the damage days after the storm. Gerberg and Reed found many residents chose to stay in their apartments. The family they spoke to were collecting water to flush toilets and navigated through dark hallways with flashlights.  According to Cecil House, General Manager of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the Smith Houses residents weren’t the only ones.

“In NYCHA alone we lost power, heat, hot water to 423 buildings affecting 80,000 residents across the city,” House said. As of December 21, 2012, NYCHA reported in a press release that all Sandy impacted building had been restored. However, remediation and renovation continued for months, according to House.

House stated that even as of late April, 24 of NYCHA’s developments were operating off of mobile boilers for heat and hot water.

One major lesson learned from the storm, according to House,  is the importance of evacuation of residents in flood-prone areas. When residents choose to stay in their apartments, House said that it can be “very difficult for the Housing authority and other agencies to address the need that gets built up after the storm.”

As far as preparing for the upcoming storm season, House said that emergency temporary boilers were in place at some locations.  Coordinating with community organizations would also be a key part of the New York City Housing Authority’s next storm response.

“For NYCHA ourselves, we’re primarily a landlord and we’re not in a position, given the challenges that we have with federal funding, to address and staff up to maintain, to address all of the issues that our residents might have in the light of a storm as significant as Hurricane Sandy,” House said. “[S]o partnering with others is going to be critical for us.”

Long term, NYCHA plans to upgrade facilities to make them less prone to flooding “Today, our boilers, our electrical switch gears are all in our basements—exposed,” House said. “[…]We’re working to elevate those systems.”