NEW NYCHA OUTRAGE

Over 1,000 New York Housing Authority tenants had no heat or hot water during their Thanksgiving holiday. Greg B. Smith, investigative reporter for the New York Daily News, is here to share the details.

Aired on November 28, 2018. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

AS TEMPERATURES DROP AS WINTER APPROACHES, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE LIVING IN NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC HOUSING CONTINUE TO SUFFER WITH HEAT AND HOT WATER OUTAGES.

COLD, OUTRAGED, AND FED UP, TEN -- TENANTS AND CITY OFFICIALS ARE SEEKING ING ANSWERS.

THE CITY CONTROLLER, WHO WAS JOINED BY CITY HOUSING RESIDENTS, GAVE THEM THE BOTTOM LINE.

I WANT EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF PAPER, EVERY REPORT, EVERY MANAGERIAL DECISION SO THAT WE CAN GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THESE OUTAGES THAT KEEP HAPPENING YEAR AFTER YEAR.

ALL THIS AFTER AN OUTAGE THAT LEFT 4,200 RESIDENTS OF THE GRANT HOUSES IN HARLEM WITHOUT LEASE ON THANKSGIVING DAY.

THE COMPTROLLER HAS NOW SERVED THE HOUSING AUTHORITY A SECOND SUBPOENA, BUT WILL THEY RELEASE THE HOUSING INFORMATION AND WILL RESIDENTS FINALLY GET THE WARM WINTER THEY DESERVE?

HERE WITH MORE ON THIS IS REPORTER GREG SMITH.

GREG, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

HAPPY TO BE HERE.

I GUESS AN UNFORTUNATE TOPIC TO BE REPORTING ON, BUT FIRST TELL US WHAT DID WE LEARN FROM THE COMPTROLLER'S PRESS CONFERENCE?

THE ORIGINATION OF THE SITU SITUATION WAS BACK TO LAST WINTER.

THE TEMPERATURE DROPPED TO ARCTIC CONDITIONS AND STAYED LIKE THAT FOR LIKE TWO WEEKS.

AND DURING THAT TIME, THE BOILERS ACROSS THE CITY AND THE PUBLIC HOUSING DEVELOPMENTS WERE FAILING LEFT AND RIGHT.

IT WAS A DISASTER.

AND THE CITY COUNCIL ULTIMATELY HELD A HEARING WHICH THEY REVEALED THERE WERE MORE THAN 300,000 TENANTS WHO WENT WITH EITHER -- DEALING WITH HEAT OUTAGE OR HOT WATER OUT ANNALS -- OUTAGES LAST SEASON.

THAT'S ABOUT THREE QUARTERS OF ALL OF THE TENANTS.

SO THREE OUT OF FOUR TENANTS HAD TO DEAL WITH THIS NONSENSE LAST YEAR.

THAT WAS LAST WINTER.

SCOTT STRINGER SAYS THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG HERE, SO WE SHOULD LOOK INTO THIS.

SO THEY BEGAN TO ASK THE HOUSING AUTHORITY FOR THE PAPERWORK THAT'S INVOLVED IN THIS.

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

IT'S BASICALLY, YOU KNOW, YOU'RE A TENANT.

YOU CALL UP THEIR -- THEY HAVE A THING CALLED COMMAND CENTER, WHICH SOUNDS VERY IMPRESSIVE, DOESN'T IT?

YOU CALL UP AND YOU ASK THE PEOPLE THERE, CAN YOU PLEASE SEND SOMEONE DOWN HERE, BECAUSE I HAVE NO HEAT AND I HAVE A CHILD OR I'M 80 YEARS OLD AND THIS IS A TERRIBLE CONDITION TO BE LIVING IN.

SO THEY THEN GENERATE A TICKET, THAT'S WHAT THEY CALL IT.

AND THEN THEY ALLEGEDLY SEND SOMEBODY THERE.

THAT PERSON IS SUPPOSED TO INVESTIGATE, THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO GO TO THE APARTMENT.

BUT THEY'RE ALSO SUPPOSED TO GO AND CHECK THE BOILER AND THE HEATING SYSTEM AND SO ON.

SO STRINGER WANTS THE PAPERWORK.

WHAT HAPPENS?

WHAT'S THE SFLAL -- WHAT'S THE TRAIL?

THAT WAS REQUESTED LAST YEAR.

HE ASKED THEM TO PRODUCE THIS INFORMATION, AND THEY DOTTLED SO IN MID NOVEMBER, HE SENT THEM A SUBPOENA FOR THE FIRST TIME.

HE DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT THIS, HE JUST KEPT IT QUIET.

THEY TURNED OVER, AGAIN, SOME STUFF, BUT NOT EVERYTHING HE WAS ASKING FOR.

AND SO LAST FRIDAY, HE SENT THEM ANOTHER SUBPOENA.

THIS IS THE SECOND SUBPOENA IN WHICH HE SAID YOU'VE GOT TO PRODUCE THIS STUFF AND PRODUCE IT BY DECEMBER 4th, I BELIEVE IT IS.

BY THE END OF THIS WEEK, THESE PEOPLE HAVE TO COME UP WITH THIS STUFF, AND IT'S PRETTY DETAILED INFORMATION ABOUT HOW EACH ONE OF THESE WORK TICKETS WAS HANDLED.

THE POINT BEING, WHAT DID THEY DO LAST WINTER THAT THEY PROBABLY SHOULD NOT DO THIS WINTER?

AND SO THAT'S WHAT HE'S LOOKING AT.

I DON'T KNOW WHEN HE'S GOING TO COME OUT WITH HIS REPORT, BUT IT WILL BE COMING OUT FAIRLY SOON, AND WHILE THIS IS HAPPENING, NATURALLY, THIS IS HAPPENING AGAIN THIS YEAR.

SO IN THE FIRST I BELIEVE IT WAS --

YOU'RE REFERRING TO THE HEAT OUTAGES.

HEAT OUTAGES AND HOT WATER OUT OUTAGES.

THE HEAT SEASON IS OCTOBER 1st, THAT'S WHEN THEY START LOOKING AT THIS.

AND THEN IN THE FIRST THREE WEEKS OF IT, THERE WERE 70,000 TENANTS WHO HAD SOME FORM OF HEAT OUTAGE.

THAT'S THIS WINTER.

IS THERE ANY INFORMATION --

IT'S OFF TO A WONDERFUL START.

UNFORTUNATELY, THAT'S TERRIBLE FOR THE TENANTS.

IS THERE ANY INDICATION WHY THE HOUSING AUTHORITY HASN'T BEEN MORE TRANSPARENT WITH THIS INFORMATION?

THEY HAVE A LONG TRADITION OF BEING OPAQUE.

THEY DO NOT -- THEY GIVE UP INFORMATION BEGRUDGINGLY.

I'VE BEEN DEALING WITH THIS FOR YEARS TRYING TO GET THEM TO EXPLAIN WHAT'S GOING ON THERE.

IN THIS PARTICULAR CASE, WHERE YOU'RE DEALING WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE PUT IN HARM'S WAY, BECAUSE IF YOU ARE, AGAIN, IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN OR IF YOU'RE ELDERLY OR JUST A REGULAR PERSON, HAVING THE TEMPERATURE IN YOUR APARTMENT DROP INTO THE 50s AND IN THE 40s, IS FRANKLY DANGEROUS.

AND SO IT IS CONSIDERED -- THESE ARE EMERGENCY CONDITIONS.

THAT IS ACTUALLY A TACTICAL TERM FOR THE CITY.

IF ANY LAND LORD, PUBLIC OR PRIVATE, THE TEMPERATURE DROPS BELOW 65, IT'S CONSIDERED AN EMERGENCY SITUATION.

AND THEY KNOW THIS.

SO WHAT DID THEY DO?

OVER THE SUMMER, THEY WENT BACK AND THEY APPARENTLY REPLACED BOILERS AT 12 DEVELOPMENTS.

THERE ARE 320 DEVELOPMENTS IN THE NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY.

SOME OF THEM HAVE PRETTY DECENT BOILERS ALREADY, SO THEY DIDN'T NEED REPLACING.

HOWEVER, THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF BOILERS, A TOTAL OF 1,966 BOILERS IN THIS CRAZY SYSTEM.

AND THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF THEM THAT THEY -- THE HOUSING AUTHORITY HAS RED FLAGGED AS BEING ESSENTIALLY READY TO BREAK DOWN.

SO WHEN IT COMES TO GETTING THE INFORMATION THAT WE ALL KNOW EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING OR NOT HAPPENING WITH THE HOUSING AUTHORITY, WHO IS GOING TO FORCE THEIR HAND?

WHAT HAPPENS WITH THE SUBPOENA?

WHO IS THE PERSON WHO SAYS THIS HAS TO BE DONE?

SO WHEN STRINGER ISSUES A SUBPOENA, HE NOW HAS THE COURT INVOLVED.

SO WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IS, IF THEY DO NOT PRODUCE THIS MATERIAL BY DECEMBER 4th, THEN HE CAN NOW GO BACK TO A JUDGE AND SAY THEY'RE IN CONTEMPT OF THIS ORDER, AND THE JUDGE CAN THEN ORDER THEM TO COMPLY IMMEDIATELY, AND IF THEY DON'T COMPLY, THEY COULD BE IN CONTEMPT OF COURT.

SO THAT'S KIND OF THE LEVERAGE THAT STRINGER HAS.

AGAIN, WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT HERE?

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT INVESTIGATING WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR.

IN THE INTERIM, WE HAVE THE SAME SITUATION THAT'S BEGINNING TO EMERGE AGAIN, DESPITE THE FACT THAT THEY ARE WELL AWARE OF THIS PROBLEM, AND THEY'RE STRUGGLING TO KIND OF STAY AHEAD OF THE CURVE RIGHT NOW.

SO THEN WHAT WOULD BE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING GOING FORWARD, AT LEAST FOR TENANTS?

THIS INFORMATION WOULD HELP IN TERMS OF TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHO WE PUSH MORE GOING FORWARD.

BUT IN THE INTERIM, IF YOU'RE WITHOUT HEAT, WHAT DO YOU DO?

IF YOU'RE A TENANT, ACTUALLY, IF YOU'RE A PUBLIC HOUSING TENANT OR A TENANT, YOU HAVE AN OPTION.

AND THAT IS ONCE THE TEMPERATURE DROPS BELOW A CERTAIN AMOUNT, THE HEAT GOES OUT, YOU DON'T NOTICE IT AT FIRST, AND THEN YOU REALIZE IT'S NOT A SCARY SITUATION, YOU CALL 311, AND 311 ESSENTIALLY DISPATCHES HOUSING INSPECTORS, WHICH IS A CITY AGENCY THAT THEY ARE OBLIGATED TO SHOW UP AT YOUR APARTMENT WITH A THERMOMETER.

THEY CHECK THE TEMPERATURE.

IF IT'S BELOW 65, THEY DO ONE OF TWO THINGS.

THEY ORDER THE LAND LORD TO DEAL WITH THIS, OR THE CITY, IF THE LAND LORD, IF HE'S M.I.A., THEY DO IT THEMSELVES AND BILL THE BILL LAND LORD.

THAT'S A NONPUBLIC HOUSING TENANT.

A PUBLIC HOUSING TENANT, THEY HAVE TO CALL THE COMMAND CENTER AND RELY ON THE HOUSING AUTHORITY TO COME AND DO THE SAME THING.

AND THAT IS TO SEND SOMEONE OUT TO CHECK THE TEMPERATURE, AND THEN TO FIX IT WITHIN A 24-HOUR PERIOD, THAT'S THEIR GOAL.

IT SOUNDS LIKE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TO MAKE SURE THERE'S A PAPER TRAIL OF THERE NOT BEING HEAT IN THEIR APARTMENT.

YEAH.

IN ORDER FOR ANYBODY TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE, YOU HAVE TO LOOK AT HOW THEY PERFORMED.

AND THAT IS THE BEST WAY TO DO IT.

ALL RIGHT.

WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO LEAVE IT THERE.

I WANT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR REPORTING IN FOLLOWING THIS SO CLOSELY.

THIS IS A CRUCIALLY IMPORTANT SUBJECT FOR OUR CITY.

THANK YOU.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019