May 30, 2011 / News

City keeps its housing complaints close to chest

New York’s biggest slumlord could be the city itself — but no one knows because it doesn’t release information about tenants’ complaints.

The city tabulates and releases complaints against private landlords, but it isn’t forthcoming when it comes to property run by the Housing Authority, the landlord for over 600,000 New Yorkers.

“I’ve been trying to get management to fix broken windows in the lobby for the past three years. Now, rain, snow, and even squirrels come in through the windows,” said Noreen Southworth, who is vice president of the tenants association of the Nostrand-Sheepshead Bay Houses on Avenue W and Nostrand Avenue.

Once complaints are made, it can be maddening to track their progress, residents say.

“You puts tickets in; nothing get done. You call again, and they say the ticket was closed out or they will start a new one,” said Ronda Bentley, who lives in the 18-building Nostrand Houses. When she tries to contact management directly, “they are always unavailable,” she said.

Residents say when they call the centralized call center the city uses to handle tenant grouses, management at the development brushes complaints under the carpet because there’s no oversight.

“That call center is a bunch of crap,” said Bentley. “They give you a ticket number and say they will e-mail the management office; they say they have 24 hours to respond.” But it can take months to get anything done — and sometimes, they just ignore requests, she said.

“They keep closing out tickets even though nobody comes out to fix it,” she said.

In fact, there is no public depository of the data about quality of life complaints in the city’s 324 developments, of which Brooklyn has 100— with 58,692 apartments.

Tenants who rent from private landlords don’t have to jump through as many hoops to find information about complaints. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which oversees privately owned apartment buildings, lists complaints lodged by tenants who call 311 on its website.

A spokesman for Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio said it tabulates its list of the worst slumlords using this data. Not surprisingly, the city is not on that list.

“Somebody should be looking over their shoulder to make sure that they have to comply as much as privately owned buildings,” said Councilman Mike Nelson (D–Sheepshead Bay), who is asking DeBlasio to name the Housing Authority as a slumlord, citing over 1,000 quality of life complaints forwarded to his office from tenants at the Sheepshead-Nostrand Houses.

With 140,000 people on the waiting list to get into city housing, demand is high, said city spokeswoman Sheila Stainback. At the same time, the city is also struggling with budget cuts from the federal government that it says makes it difficult to keep up with repairs.

“Based on our last physical needs assessment, it was estimated NYCHA would require $7.5 billion over five years to maintain and rehabilitate our developments,” said Stainback. “In 2010, our federal capital subsidy was only $327 million — far short of what is necessary to tend to these aging structures.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said theagency funds city housing to the tune of $1.9 billion annually.


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