Photo courtesy of Rep. Grace Meng's office
Congress members Grace Meng, Eliot Engel and Nydia Velázquez called on NYCHA to provide consistent heat to residents this winter

As winter approaches and temperatures quickly plummet, a Queens lawmaker urged New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to take action in providing residents with adequate heat.

In a letter to the city agency, Congresswoman Grace Meng — along with fellow U.S. Reps. Eliot Engel and Nydia Velázquez — demanded that CEO Gregory Russ provide the details of the NYCHA’s “action plan” following their failure to keep boilers working and units at a proper temperature.

Back in 2016, the New York City Congressional Delegation passed an amendment as part of the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act. Under the amendment, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) set federal guidelines establishing minimum heating requirements for NYCHA and other federally supported public housing units.

The guidelines took effect on Nov. 19, 2018, but multiple reports exhibited NYCHA’s inability to provide heat consistently. A year after HUD issued its guidelines, a report from Gothamist showed that nearly 23,000 city residents experienced heat or hot water outages during a boiler system test.

“It is completely unacceptable for any resident to be forced to live in these cold, and, often unsafe, conditions,” the members wrote in the letter. “While we understand that the Action Plan is still under review by the Federal Monitor, we are becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of transparency of the Action Plan. Many of our constituents are already reporting heating outages in their NYCHA units.”

According to the letter, On Jan. 31, 2019, NYCHA, HUD and the city entered into a consent decree to remedy living conditions across NYCHA, which is considered the nation’s largest public housing authority. The agency houses approximately 380,000 residents in 316 developments.

Part of the consent decree requires NYCHA to maintain certain temperatures in apartments between Oct. 1 and May 31, also known as “heating season.” When outside temperatures fall below 55 degrees, NYCHA must heat buildings to at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., and to at least 62 degrees between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The consent decree also requires NYCHA to establish the action plan identifying how NYCHA will respond to heating outages in each of its 316 developments.

“Nobody should be forced to endure frigid temperatures,” Meng said. “NYCHA’s troubling history of heating problems has been reckless and unacceptable, especially after we passed minimum heating requirement guidelines into law. My district includes three NYCHA public housing units: Pomonok, Latimer Gardens and Bland Houses. As winter sets in, I demand that NYCHA residents in my district and throughout the city have warm homes during the cold weather. I am thankful to and proud to work alongside my colleagues, Representatives Engel and Velázquez in holding NYCHA accountable. I await Chairman Russ’ response to our letter.”

Read the full text of the letter here.

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