Searching for Answers about “Critical” Resiliency Upgrades to NYCHA Buildings

While Hurricane Sandy is just a memory for many New Yorkers, thousands of the city’s public housing residents are still living with temporary boilers, closed playgrounds, mold, and other damage to their buildings, apartments and outdoor spaces caused by the historic storm.

Real help is supposed to be on the way from the federal government, but now there are concerns about more delays and even the assuredness of the repair dollars themselves.

On March 31st, the City announced the allocation of approximately $3 billion in federal funding -the largest FEMA grant in the history of the agency- to repair and protect at least 33 New York City public housing developments that sustained severe damage during Sandy.

The FEMA funds are supposed to go to 14 developments in Manhattan, 12 in Brooklyn, and 7 in Queens. Half of the funds are designated for repairs, while the other half will be aimed at implementing resiliency measures to better protect developments from future storms. This includes new construction of elevated boilers, installation of flood barrier systems, and acquisition of stand-by generators.

But a New York City Council oversight hearing yesterday found that “there is no clear timeline to begin construction and upgrades, and FEMA funding agreements remain unsigned.”

“It is evident…that NYCHA has no timeline or scope of work for upgrading its Sandy-impacted developments,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres of the Bronx, chair of the public housing committee, in a statement after yesterday’s hearing. “NYCHA has only received $3.5 million from FEMA and it is not clear when it will receive the rest of the $3 billion grant it was promised.”

“There are still too many unanswered questions. I worry that months and years will go by and tenants will not see improvements,” Torres said.

Pushing for “Transparency and Accountability”

Torres said he would “continue to push NYCHA to articulate how it will ensure transparency and accountability to residents across the city.”

Richie Torres
New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres of the Bronx.

Yesterday’s hearing was chaired by the Council’s committees on public housing and recovery & resiliency. According to a statement released by both committees, the origin of the FEMA funding for the NYCHA repairs is now also in question.

“The bulk” of the $3 billion FEMA grant will actually be coming from insurance companies, maintained Torres and recovery & resiliency committee chair Mark Treyger, “further muddying how the money will be delivered to NYCHA.”

Council members Torres and Treyger also stated that they requested copies of the FEMA-approved project worksheets and a spending plan for the funds from NYCHA “several weeks ago.” NYCHA has responded that it must complete several procedural steps before the worksheets are finalized, the Council members reported.

Major Endeavor for a Struggling Agency

Both Council members Torres and Treyger say they question whether NYCHA has the capacity and workforce necessary “to carry out these historic levels of repairs and upgrades.” The agency is consistently underfunded, and has been plagued by reports of internal dysfunction.

According to the Council, NYCHA Executive Vice President for Capital Projects, Raymond Ribeiro, testified yesterday that construction will take place at 35 developments. Some of the projects will begin this summer, and will take between a year and a half to 3 years to complete, depending on the scope of the work.

Approximately 10,000 construction jobs will be created by the upgrades, Ribeiro noted. Council members and NYCHA tenant leaders say they will be watching closely to see how many residents obtain these jobs.

According to the City, the FEMA grant is subject to NYCHA’s recently negotiated Project Labor Agreement with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, as well as its affiliated unions – which gives NYCHA residents access to union jobs and training.

Council members and tenant leaders will also be tracking NYCHA’s development of specific timelines for work at each of the 35 developments, and the agency’s community engagement process as it carries out the upgrades.

“We want to ensure that this investment is appropriately monitored…and that public housing residents benefit from this funding,” said Reginald Bowman, President of the City-Wide Council of Presidents, which represents NYCHA residents. “The first priority must be an assessment and plan by engineers and architects that specialize in…these types of projects,” Bowman said.

Losing Time and Money

NYER5115_12
Temporary boiler installation at Red Hook Houses after Hurricane Sandy. Photo credit: Leticia Barboza / NYCHA.

Time is of the essence. NYCHA is reportedly spending nearly $467,000 a month to rent the temporary boilers that are still in use at impacted developments across the city.

And the city’s public housing stock is just as physically vulnerable today as it was before Sandy struck in 2012. Several major NYCHA developments lie in the city’s greatly expanded flood zones.

“Residents have serious questions regarding when work will finally begin…and when their lives will finally return to normal after hearing about this historic $3 billion [federal] commitment…Progress must be made on behalf of those families,” said Council Member Treyger.

Feds Allocate $3 Billion for 33 Sandy-Damaged NYCHA Developments

Our summary of a statement released yesterday by the Mayor’s Press Office:

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Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer have announced the allocation of approximately $3 billion in federal funding to repair and protect 33 New York City public housing developments that sustained severe damage during Hurricane Sandy – the largest FEMA grant in the history of the agency.

The Mayor’s Office described the FEMA grant yesterday as “unprecedented.”

“This historic and essential funding will restore livable housing for thousands of families and fortify NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority] against future disasters,” says the City.

Several major NYCHA developments lie in flood zones. The FEMA funds will go to 14 developments in Manhattan, 12 in Brooklyn, and 7 in Queens.

Half of the funds will be designated for repairs, while the other half will be aimed at implementing resiliency measures to better protect developments from future storms. The funding is authorized by FEMA’s Alternative Procedures, which provides a lump sum payment instead of the typical incremental funding by FEMA.

“Too many [NYCHA residents] are still feeling the impact [of Sandy],” said Mayor de Blasio.

“This investment…won’t simply bring NYCHA developments back to pre-Sandy conditions,” said the Mayor. “It will allow us to fortify buildings and utilities…From elevated boilers and standby generators to flood protection, this investment will go a long way for thousands of NYCHA residents.”

According to City Hall, the new Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency is implementing other “key” climate resiliency measures, including flood protection systems in lower Manhattan and Red Hook, Brooklyn, and many other short-, medium-, and long-term measures across the five boroughs.

Protecting NYCHA Residents from Future Storms

The approximately $3 billion in FEMA funding will allow the New York City Housing Authority to make critical repairs at 33 developments where Sandy’s storm surge flooded basements and first floors, severely damaging boilers and electrical and mechanical equipment, and leaving many residents without power and heat for days or weeks.

In many cases, NYCHA electrical and mechanical systems were completely destroyed during Sandy, says the City.

The FEMA funds will also allow NYCHA to take measures to make the 33 developments more resilient to future storms and extreme weather. This includes new construction of elevated boilers, installation of flood barrier systems, and acquisition of stand-by generators.

NYCHA Residents Targeted for Resiliency Jobs

The work completed via this funding will be subject to NYCHA’s recently negotiated Project Labor Agreement with the Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC) of Greater New York, as well as its affiliated unions – allowing NYCHA residents to gain access to union jobs and training and helping ensure swifter capital construction.

FEMA $$$ Aside, NYCHA Is Facing a Massive Budget Deficit

NYCHA requires more than $18 billion beyond the funding announced yesterday to address its broader unmet capital needs across its portfolio of more than 330 developments.

Eroding annual support for NYCHA has resulted in more than $1 billion in lost funding in recent years, hindering the Authority’s ability to keep its buildings in a state of decent repair and maintain a basic quality of life for the more than 400,000 New Yorkers living in NYCHA.

[Editor’s Note: The Daily News reported in December that NYCHA was nearing a deal to sell a 50% stake in almost 900 apartments to a pair of private developers. Some of the 900 apartments reportedly targeted for the deal are located in NYCHA’s Campos Plaza development in Manhattan, which is also receiving some of the just-announced FEMA funding.

The cash infusion from private developers would raise $100 million over the next two years and another $100 million through 2029, according to the Daily News.]

The 33 NYCHA developments slated to receive FEMA funding

Manhattan

  • Riis I
  • Riis II
  • Metro North
  • Wald
  • Baruch
  • East River Houses
  • Smith Houses
  • La Guardia
  • Campos I
  • Campos II
  • Lavanburg
  • Rangel Houses
  • Two Bridges
  • Isaacs

 

Brooklyn

  • Red Hook West
  • Red Hook East
  • Gowanus
  • Coney Island Houses
  • Coney Island Site 1B
  • Coney Island Sites 4 & 5
  • Coney Island Site 8
  • Carey Gardens
  • Surfside Gardens
  • O’Dwyer Gardens
  • Haber Houses
  • Gravesend

 

Queens/Rockaways

  • Redfern
  • Hammel Houses
  • Ocean Bay Oceanside
  • Ocean Bay Bayside
  • Carleton Manor
  • Beach 41st
  • Astoria

 

Repair and mitigation work at the 33 developments will include:

Mechanical

• New elevated boiler buildings to be built at an elevation above the recent FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) to reduce future flood risk
• Removal and replacement of building heating plant equipment, including boilers, pumps, tanks and traps throughout the submerged portions of the buildings
• Removal and replacement of Sandy-damaged compactors and lifts

Electrical

• Installation of standby generators to protect quality of life in any future storm power outages
• Removal and replacement of existing electrical equipment at lower levels of the buildings
• Removal and replacement of conduit and associated wiring below the flood level throughout the sites, as well as replacement of associated lighting
• Installation of CCTV/Layered Access systems
• New electrical buildings, to be built above FEMA FIRM to reduce flood risk, that will house buildings’ main electrical components.

Architectural

• Removal and replacement of Sandy damaged doors, walls, floors and fixtures throughout buildings’ first floor apartments and common areas
• Replacement of damaged roofing components
• Installation of a flood barrier system for lower levels of buildings

Site Work and Environmental

• Removal and replacement of damaged play areas, fencing, sidewalks and parking areas
• Removal and disposal of any regulated or hazardous materials