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Need for major renovations keeps NYCHA units vacant for years: audit

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NEW YORK -- Almost 300,000 New Yorkers are on the waiting list for a spot inside a New York City Housing Authority Building yet hundreds of apartments remain vacant, some for more than 10 years. But NYCHA says vacancy rates are the lowest in a decade and that it can't make the necessary repairs without the necessary funding.

Construction Crews are in the middle of a major overhaul at the Housing Authority's Harlem River Houses.

"There was mold in here and just severe water damage," said Matt Dixon, deputy director of capital projects.

More than 40 vacant homes are being renovated after major structural damage led to leaks inside apartments. But City Comptroller Scott Stringer says crews aren't working fast enough. According to a new audit of the Housing Authority, major renovations keep apartments vacant for an average of 7 years.

"People in this community are crying out for affordable housing, we have a record number of people in homeless shelters, 25,000 of them are children so it does what this audit says is enough is enough," said Stringer.

The audit contends that the city lost out on more than $8 million in rent from more than 1,300 vacant apartments -- which is part of the reason dozens of tenants gathered on the steps of City Hall Thursday, calling for a shake up of NYCHA's administration.

"While Mayor de Blasio delays, mold continues to grow in apartments across New York City," said Rev. David Brawley.

Tenant Yolanda Bonilla was surprised to hear about all the vacant apartments. Bonilla has lived in her NYCHA apartment for more than 40 years and says the Authority is usually very eager to collect rent.

"I owed New York City Housing Authority 60 cents. Come on, it took me 12 years to get my apartment fixed," she said.

"And how long did it take you to get a note that you owed them 60 cents?" PIX11 News asked.

"I don't know -- three days," Bonilla said, laughing and shaking her head.

But the Housing Authority is trying to wrap up those major repairs. The units at The Harlem River Houses are all expected to be finished by March, wiping away about 20 percent of uninhabitable apartments. Deputy Director Matt Dixon says he hopes they can fix the others soon, but they can't do it without some help.

"There are many more developments that have just as many needs as Harlem River has but we don't have the funds to do it," said Dixon.

But Stringer's not buying it.

"The notion they did not have enough money to do repairs for 80 apartments that have been languishing for 10 years is up for excuse that is unbelievable on his face," said Stringer.