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Residents file a class-action lawsuit against NYCHA claiming lagging repairs, hazardous living conditions

NYCHA residents gather to share their stories living in unbearable conditions. (Julia Moro/QNS)

Tenants of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) at the Queensbridge Houses campus announced on Tuesday, Aug. 17, a class-action lawsuit against NYCHA for lagging in necessary repairs.

The Justice for All Coalition organized support and sought legal representation from Queens Legal Services, who filed the lawsuit on the tenants’ behalf. Residents have complained about vermin infestations, asbestos, lead paint and other harmful living conditions for years. 

One plaintiff, 72-year-old Pamela Wheeler, resides in Queensbridge North building and has complained to NYCHA about an incessant mice infestation in her apartment. 

According to Wheeler, NYCHA has not addressed that issue or any other complaints she has filed. Wheeler also said her kitchen sink does not work and frequently loses heat in the winter, causing body aches due to the cold temperatures.

“I decided to sue NYCHA because I am tired of living with mice, roaches, water bugs, lack of heat, holes in my walls and sink, waterlogged and rotting cabinets, and many more repair issues that are a threat to my health and safety and an affront to my dignity,” Wheeler said. “NYCHA never repairs anything when I file a ticket, and it is so frustrating trying to get any repairs in my apartment.”

One NYCHA resident tried to duct-tape every possible entry point in her apartment, but bugs still find their way in. (Courtesy of a NYCHA resident)

Robert Sanderman, a senior staff attorney at Queens Legal Services representing the tenants, said when NYCHA eventually does do repairs, it’s “shoddy work.”

“Many tenants in Queensbridge are senior citizens and have disabilities. They spend all this time and energy just to get ignored,” Sanderman said. “This is unacceptable, especially for tenants with serious conditions in their apartments which may exacerbate health concerns. This collective, which includes other NYCHA houses in Queens, is forcing us as a society to decide whether we believe in every person’s dignity of a clean, safe and sanitary home. This should not be a sole right for the privileged, but be extended to communities of color.”

A sink cabinet covered in black mold. (Courtesy of a NYCHA resident)

The lawsuit coalition hopes to get the courts to force NYCHA to make necessary repairs and award damages to the plaintiffs. The lawsuit also asks the court to determine that NYCHA has committed illegal harassment by failing to make legally required repairs and provide essential services.  

Many tenants spoke about their fears of facing retaliation from NYCHA and losing their homes as they came forward. Catherine Bladykas, another Queensbridge resident, wept as she said she has nowhere else to go.

Bladykas, a mother of three, said she has been dealing with asbestos and vermin infestations. 

Many residents complained about vermin infestations in their apartments that NYCHA has allegedly not addressed. (Courtesy of a NYCHA resident)

“I do my best to manage the infestations on my own. I have to spend my own money on traps regularly with no help from NYCHA,” Bladykas said. “I had to move my twins into one bedroom because of the extensive black mold exposure in one of the bedrooms. The smell of the mold is getting worse and worse.”

Bladykas said she often worries about her family’s health and has tried to contact NYCHA to make her apartment livable. 

A NYCHA apartment. (Photo courtesy of a NYCHA tenant)

“Home is supposed to be your sanctuary,” Bladykas said as she held back tears. “I should be able to look forward to coming home. It’s stressful. This is especially problematic during a deadly pandemic: It’s not safe outside and it’s not safe inside my house.”

A spokesperson for NYCHA told QNS that the authority had not been served with this lawsuit, and they do not comment on pending litigation.

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