In his apartment at NYCHA's Gravesend Houses in Coney Island, Maldonado had mold in his closet that moved to his ceiling. "[NYCHA] came out to fix the mold. But all they did was paint over it," Maldonado writes in a report out this week. "After Sandy, the mold grew faster and seemed to be the worst on days that we were without heat for a long amount of time, which was sometimes three or more days. It spread to cover the ceiling throughout the house, into my closet and all over my clothes. It was so bad that I lost all of my clothes. In my kids’ room it had worked its way down the walls and I had to remove furniture and mattresses."
Maldonado's experiences pre- and post-Sandy—of trouble with maintenance issues that merely grew worse after the storm—reflects the theme of the report, "Weathering the Storm: Rebuilding a More Resilient New York City Housing Authority Post-Sandy." Produced by a coalition of community groups including the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, New York Communities for Change and Community Voices Heard and based on a survey of residents in Sandy-affected NYCHA complexes, the report depicts the lingering impact of the 2012 storm not as the product of a discrete emergency but as the result of years of disinvestment in public housing.
It's not news that NYCHA has budget problems and faces criticism over management lapses; the authority welcomed a new chairperson last week, Shola Olatoye, who arrives with a charge from Mayor de Blasio to address the systemic woes at the nation's largest and oldest public housing agency. But the numbers in the reports are still staggering. Eighteen months out from Sandy, 16 developments are still served at least partly by temporary boilers. Forty percent of those residents surveyed had new repair issues after Sandy, but 55 percent had issues before the storm struck. Nearly half have visible mold now, but more than a third did before the not-quite-a-hurricane roared up the coast.
The authors recommend that NYCHA undertake a comprehensive mold eradication strategy, implement a more transparent system for reporting on its maintenance backlog and launch a job-training program so residents can benefit from some of the spending on that work.
But the likelihood of another disaster is also clearly in mind; the report calls for improvements to disaster communication systems, attention to creating community centers that can organize emergency response in NYCHA developments and using cogeneration—a way of capturing waste from the process of generating power and using it to heat water and buildings—as a way to make buildings more resilient for the next "storm of the century."