Living with multiple space heaters in an apartment and using an oven for heat sounds all too familiar following the devastating fire on Jan. 9, that claimed 17 lives in Fordham Heights.
But sadly, this is also commonplace at the Fort Independence Houses, 3340 Bailey Ave., in Kingsbridge Heights. It is there, where for five years inconsistent heat and hot water has compromised tenants’ ability to live. And tenants say a mobile boiler installed two months ago when the permanent one broke has been faulty from the start causing them to freeze in their homes.
The city even has two MTA buses parked outside running for the residents to use to get warm.
On Jan. 22, state Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz a Riverdale Democrat, and Progressive City Councilwoman Pierina Sanchez held a press conference with the Fort Independence Houses Tenant Association, where they denounced NYCHA, which owns the Kingsbridge Heights building, and demanded not only the temporary boiler be fixed, but a new one be installed.
Fort Independence has 344 apartments and 750 tenants, and everyone deserves to live with heat and dignity, Sanchez said.
“This is not a new problem,” said Sanchez, who was recently appointed as chair of the Council Committee on Housing and Buildings. “This is decades in the making. I grew up with no heat and hot water conditions, using space heaters to heat our homes, and ovens.”
According to the councilwoman, it seems like NYCHA is just trying to put a band-aid on the problem.
“The mobile boiler is a temporary solution that isn’t working,” she said. “Today, I have neighbors telling me they have two or three space heaters on, and they are heating their homes with their ovens, but they’re being told not to because it’s not safe. Now what are they supposed to do?”
The councilwoman said lack of heat is not only an issue at the Fort Independence Houses, but citywide. In fact, two NYCHA buildings in Brooklyn and one at 1285 Washington Ave., in Morrisania all have heat issues. Furthermore, 14 NYCHA buildings have elevator problems and six have electricity problems. In total, NYCHA owns more than 177,000 apartments within 335 housing developments within the city.
Sanchez said NYCHA has a citywide backlog of $40 billion in capital needs and many of these issues could be resolved if the federal Build Back Better Act is passed by Congress.The bill would invest $330 billion in the nation’s housing infrastructure, including $80 billion for public housing investments, which would cover the repairs needed across the NYCHA portfolio. The bill, which was introduced in September 2021, would provide funding and establish programs geared toward improving education, labor, child care, health care, public housing and the environment.
“This is unacceptable yet there are leaders in Washington, D.C., that say we don’t need investment,” she said. “I dare you to come to the Bronx and come here and stand in front of my neighbors and then tell them they don’t need investment and don’t matter.”
Dinowitz remembers when Fort Independence was built in 1974. He said there is no way today’s conditions would fly back then. People need to live safely, and more importantly, no one wants a repeat of Twin Parks, he added.
“Anybody else living in this neighborhood or beyond would expect to get heat and hot water,” Dinowitz said. “We don’t want them plugging in space heaters.”
Fort Independence Tenant Association President Barbara Lauray said many tenants of the building use space heaters and ovens for warmth, against the landlord’s warnings. With no other options, some people have moved out, Lauray said.
“This is a situation we’ve dealt with for years,” she said. “The bottom line is we’re freezing here, and nothing is being done.”
Lauray pleaded for Democrat Mayor Eric Adams to come and meet with the residents.
“Who in their right mind is going to bundle up, come out in the cold and get on a bus,” she said. “Take this bootleg boiler and get it out of here.”
It seems NYCHA heard the cries from the tenants and sprang to action.
“The mobile boiler at Fort Independence Houses is currently operational and the permanent internal boiler restoration is anticipated in early Spring,” said Rochel Leah Goldblatt, a spokesman for NYCHA. “In the interim, we have initiated a 24-hour watch to ensure the mobile boiler is maintaining services.”
Reach Jason Cohen at [email protected] or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.