Back in December, the New York City Housing Authority entered into an agreement with a federal judge and advocacy groups that requires the agency to address claims of mold in public housing within 15 days.
State Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) liked the idea, but felt it did not go far enough, and has introduced a bill that would codify the terms of the court settlement in state law.
“Judicial orders can expire. Judges can retire,” Sanders said last Friday after taking a tour of the Baisley Park Houses complex in Jamaica with residents, members of the clergy and representatives of the Queens chapter of New York City Cares.
Sanders’ bill, S-6238, also would require NYCHA to follow up on mold remediation jobs within 60 days to make sure the work was effective.
Sanders said NYCHA’s record for poor or nonexistant response to tenant maintenance complaints made him decide to give the mold regulations the force of law.
Laura Hill, a resident in the complex for more than 20 years, said her grandson has respiratory difficulties and that her requests for repairs of crumbling walls in his closet had been ignored for about two years — until last Thursday, the day before Sanders was due to show up with news reporters.
“They’ve had maintenance workers all over these buildings the last few days,” Sanders said. Even then, the senator said, some things he saw on the tour saddened him.
“There is an apartment door where a young man was shot,” he said. “The holes are still there, and his brothers have to see them every day. That robs people of their humanity. You have to replace that door.”
Hill and Jean Sassine, chairman of New York City Cares in Queens, said locks at some entrances don’t work, leaving people fearful of leaving their apartments at nights.
Sanders also acknowledged disappointment with NYCHA’s spending millions of dollars per year defending itself from lawsuits that he feels could be avoided, and at far less cost, by carrying out repairs in a reasonable time frame.
“It’s time to spend less money fighting the poor and more helping them,” he said.
“This is not about a confrontation with NYCHA,” A.U. Hogan, president of the Baisley Park Houses Tenants Association said on Friday. “But everybody here pays rent. These things should be done.”
Sanders said residents of city housing are vulnerable in one very important way that private renters are not.
“If repairs aren’t done, you can’t withhold your rent and go to housing court,” he said. “If you don’t pay your rent, you’re out.” He said tenants can help themselves by being more active in their tenants’ associations and working through organizations like NYCC.
“By yourself all you can get is frustrated,” he said. But he also reiterated that his bill, if passed, will put permanent teeth in tenant protection policy.
“If NYCHA wants to disobey a court order, we can go back to court and ask that they be held in contempt,” he said. “If they chose to violate the law, then they would be headed down a slippery slope.”
NYCHA representatives did not respond to questions that their press office requested be sent to them by email, including one about the alleged timing of repairs made last week.