Leaks, a broken HVAC system, rotting ceiling tiles, mold and vermin infestation have all interrupted important services for seniors at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) East Side House Settlement.
Lawmakers have taken notice and say they are sick and tired of NYCHA treating Bronxites like second-class citizens.
Recognizing the horrid conditions at the Melrose Mott Haven Senior Center, 372 E. 152nd St., U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres and City Councilman Rafael Salamanca held a press conference Aug. 31, where they called on NYCHA to make immediate repairs.
Rotting ceiling tiles caused by rainwater and second floor leaks in the center’s main room has rendered the space unusable, exposing overhead wiring in the process. The center’s HVAC system, overrun by vermin, has caused the center’s air conditioning unit to malfunction, eliminating the center’s ability to serve as a vital cooling center during sweltering summer heatwaves.
“The purpose of today’s press conference is to call out NYCHA’s incompetence,” Salamanca said. “NYCHA has turned its back on the South Bronx, and I’m fed up and tired.”
The senior center — which provides meals, case assistance, programs and recreation activities — can hold up to 200 people, but the facility can’t even open its doors to people right now because of its current state of disrepair.
For the past few years, the center has fallen into disarray and NYCHA has done nothing, according to lawmakers. Salamanca has had multiple conversations with NYCHA representatives, yet his requests have fallen on deaf ears. He added that NYCHA’s lack of accountability does not end with the senior center. In 2017, he allocated $3 million in city funding to renovate the security at the Melrose Houses up the street and was told that work will not be finished until 2024.
The lawmaker does not understand why it would take seven years to make the upgrades nor why NYCHA pays its CEO Greg Russ $400,000 annually, yet lets its residents live in squalor.
“It’s frustrating to constantly have to hold press conferences and embarrass NYCHA to get the job done,” he said. “The world needs to know how inefficient NYCHA is.”
Torres echoed Salamanca’s sentiments and added that he will not sign onto the Budget Reconciliation bill unless there’s a portion of money set aside for public housing and senior centers. The $3.5 trillion piece of legislation will provide resources to improve education, health, and child care systems, invest in clean energy and sustainability, address the housing crisis, and more.
Having grown up in public housing, Torres knows firsthand how NYCHA treats its residents. He added that for too long seniors have been ignored.
“These are conditions that a NYCHA executive would never wish on their loved one,” he said. “So why do seniors have to live with constant leaks, vermin and mold? For me, a senior center is a sanctuary, it’s a place where many of you find meaning and enjoyment and you can’t put a price tag on that.”
Among those who have experienced the neglect firsthand are Eva Gary and Emilia Pagan.
Gary, who has lived in the building for 15 years, said the senior center has deteriorated over the last few years. “It’s gotten worse as time goes on,” she said. “We cannot hang in there, it’s terrible.”
Pagan told the Bronx Times they have filed numerous repair tickets to NYCHA, but nothing ever happens. She said typically people celebrate birthdays, participate in Zumba or socialize there, but now people are stuck in their rooms. “We complain all the time,” Pagan said. “We feel angry. We feel upset.”
NYCHA did not provide much detail in how it plans to address the deficiencies.
“This property requires a significant capital investment for a new roof and related repairs, and we look forward to discussing short- and long-term solutions with our elected and community partners,” said Rochel Leah Goldblatt, deputy press secretary of NYCHA.
Reach Jason Cohen at email@example.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.