NEW YORK — After a months-long review spurred by a heat crisis in public housing that left thousands of residents in the cold this winter, the New York City Housing Authority on Thursday said it would expedite replacing boiler plants in its complexes.
PIX11 News’ has been following the cases of residents living in difficult conditions in one of the coldest winters New York has experienced, including a 14-day stretch when the temperature didn’t rise above freezing.
NYCHA’s aging infrastructure has been blamed for creating problems which contributed to the lack of heat and hot water, NYCHA general manager Vito Mustaciuolo said.
“It’s about the residents. There is a real, strong commitment to fix the developments,” Mustaciuolo said.
The housing authority has partnered with the Department of Buildings and the Department of Environmental Protection to replace the boilers under the recent $200 million allocated by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
It was initially estimated that the boiler replacements could take about three to five years, but now officials said that time has been decreased by about 20 months and they’re looking into more ways to further quicken the project.
One way they’ll do this is to expedite their design process from 12 months to six months, according to Deborah Goddard, executive vice president for special projects at NYCHA.
Designers will start working on Thursday.
Normal processes, such as getting plans before the board, typically take time. Starting this month, the agency plans to go to the board with a vote that will allow the redesigning of contracts without having to go back and forth to the board. The DEP has also agreed to cut a process that typically lasts four weeks down to one week.
For the past month, multiple city agencies have met to speak about the crises families face without heat or hot water and now “it’s time for everyone to come together,” NYC Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel said.
Ampry-Samuel questioned what would be done with the rest of the money invested by the mayor, calling on NYCHA to meet with state and city leaders to come up with a practical timeline.
"We need to work together. We need to get it done," she said.
Meanwhile, the next step for the New York City Housing Authority may be a state of emergency. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday that he is considering the idea.
"NYCHA is in a crisis, and I stand with the residents on this," he said, according to a transcript of a TV interview posted to the governor’s website. "To be subjected to mold and lead poisoning? Lead poisoning went to in the ‘70s. Lead poisoning is irreversible and they can't even get a straight answer."
Mustaciuolo responded to Cuomo’s consideration Thursday. He said declaring a state of emergency would not necessarily speed up the replacement of boilers. However, he vowed to work with the state and federal governments and agencies to better develop a plan for NYCHA residents.
NYCHA is also planning to collaborate with “every agency” to do what they can to prepare for the next heating season.
Several City Council members recently asked Cuomo to declare a state of emergency. The council of presidents of the different NYCHA tenant groups have requested the same.
The tenant leaders, represented by attorney Jim Walden, sent the request days after filing a lawsuit against NYCHA.
“Tenants cannot wait three years for heat and to have toxic lead removed from their apartments,” Walden wrote to Cuomo. “The state can declare an emergency and install an independent contractor to do the work, bypassing NYCHA’s broken bureaucracy.”