Residents of Woodside Houses are still grappling with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida as tenants have gone weeks with inadequate heat and hot water in their apartments.
Last year’s storm brought record-breaking rainfall to New York City, flooding the heating plant of the 20-building housing project that is home to nearly 2,900 New Yorkers. The main boiler was submerged in over five feet of water, according to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).
Elected officials recently took a tour of Woodside Houses, which has since installed three mobile boilers. Still, residents say the heat has been sporadic this winter, including when they went the day before Christmas Eve with no heat or hot water.
NYCHA says the mobile boilers will be taken offline in stages after a $1.4 million repair job to the heating plant is complete in February.
Before she was ever sworn in, Councilwoman Julie Won was receiving reports of no heat in Woodside Houses. Since she’s taken office, she has fielded over 20 similar complaints.
Following her tour of the public housing complex with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and State Senator Jessica Ramos, Won called for a permanent fix to the heating issues at Woodside Houses.
“Since September 2021 when Hurricane Ida hit, NYCHA had months to prepare in advance to repair the heating plant at Woodside Houses,” she said. “NYCHA should release a long-term solution instead of unreliable mobile boilers. FEMA and HUD must make funding the repair of the heating plant a top priority for the health and safety of everyone at Woodside Houses.”
Yen Castro, whose mother lives in Woodside Houses, said he had only just started to feel reliable heat, coincidentally, on the same day as the elected officials came to tour the facility. He says for the past few years the heat quality has been poor.
This year, however, he says has been particularly bad.
“My mother had to buy portable heaters and they were in use for at least a month,” said Castro, who has been living off and on at Woodside Houses for 20 years. “My friend says it’s the same with his mother at 50-50 on Broadway.”
Another resident, Evelyn, said that she had to sometimes boil water in order to take a shower and also uses a portable heater to keep warm. She said the city could have prevented the long-term problem by being ready for the flooding the storm brought.
“They should have been prepared,” she said. “You know we have hurricanes, why don’t you do something about the basements because those basements are always getting flooded when it rains a lot.”
Ramos and Assemblyman Brian Barnwell have proposed legislation that would create a searchable database of all maintenance request tickets at NYCHA properties.
The NYCHA Accountability Act aims to increase transparency after residents say they have had their complaints closed without them being resolved or fixed.
“For years, we have had constituent complaints from NYCHA residents regarding no heat, no hot water, issues with mold, and other horrible conditions,” said Barnwell. “Time and time again, the ticket complaint numbers generated would be closed by NYCHA without any explanation and without the condition being resolved.”
Hurricane Ida was the second-most damaging hurricane to make landfall in the nation behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Three of the 13 New Yorkers who died due to the storm were a Woodside family — including a 19-month old — living in a basement apartment.
With the heat just starting to come back to normal in his mother’s apartment, Castro says the feeling of warmth has been overdue. He said people may assume that New Yorkers know how to overcome hardships with an inflated sense of resiliency.
“They think we’re supposed to be good at all times,” he said.