The residents of Dunbar Heights in Peekskill feel shortchanged by the Peekskill Housing Authority after being forced to suffer an erratic loss of heat, hot water and gas for over a month.
Following a stretch of piping issues throughout the almost eight-acre development that resulted in Con Edison turning off the gas to each of the 96 dwellings for necessary repairs in early December, the tenants at Dunbar Heights are fighting to be treated fairly as they continue to spend their days and nights in the cold unable to bathe and cook.
“I’ve had to wear five layers of clothing because my body was so cold,” said 13-year resident Sandy Allen. “I live here, I live alone, and I don’t want to suffer. It’s just not fair.”
Allen noted that she has experienced intermittent issues since Con Edison turned the gas off on December 4, citing roughly 13 times her unit was without heat and hot water, including on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
According to the Peekskill Housing Authority, the federal agency that manages the property, tenants have experienced heating and water issues because the boiler system is no longer getting natural gas from the city. Instead it’s coming from propane tanks, Peekskill Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Chairperson Nancy Vann said.
“We had not anticipated the heat and hot water would go out at all,” Vann said. “That has been a real problem for us. That was a surprise.”
While Vann believes the heating and water issue had been resolved as of January 2, tenants at a raucous community meeting last Saturday said they were still experiencing problems. Resident Emily Zambrano said she has sent her three kids to stay with her mother several times over the last month due to the dangerous living conditions.
“I’m upset,” said resident Diane Hines, who emphasized making nearly 29 phone calls to maintenance in one day after problems persisted and there was limited communication from the housing authority. “They are treating people so badly and being cruel.”
Vann said maintenance is on-call 24/7, but residents said it has taken up to five hours for maintenance to acknowledge concerns and requests.
“There is no immediate help,” said resident Sheena Bauer.
With the complex also without gas since December 4, Vann, who hosted Saturday’s meeting on behalf of the Housing Authority, said tenants were notified twice in November that the gas would need to be turned off to repair the leaky pipes. With the work only impacting the ovens, Vann said housing officials spent nearly $2,000 on electric burners so every resident could still cook.
But tenants continue to remain displeased with the Housing Authority’s lack of accountability to their personal care and safety, asserting that housing officials have failed to repair the faulty pipes that have been in dire need of replacement for decades.
“I’m beyond angry,” Allen said. “I’m disgusted with the City of Peekskill. All the money that went toward the fireworks on New Year’s Eve could have been used to help us.”
With the community meeting attracting four members of the Common Council, including Mayor Andre Rainey, residents were also outraged that Vann was the only member of the Housing Authority in attendance. Vann claimed that they were advised by their lawyer not to assemble as a quorum, also adding that some of her colleagues had prior engagements.
Lawyer and former Mayor Frank Catalina challenged that there is no legal reason for members of the housing community to not be in attendance if official business is not taking place. Catalina is currently providing free legal representation to eight tenants at the complex, advising them to deposit their rent into an escrow account where it will stay until all services are restored or ordered otherwise by a judge.
Catalina also encouraged city officials to enlist the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to abolish the Peekskill Housing Authority. Rainey agreed the city should investigate the policies, practices and members of the Housing Authority.
“We don’t have anybody we can hold accountable during these emergencies because we don’t really know who’s on call,” Rainey said.
Councilwoman Vanessa Agudelo, who is the liaison to the Housing Authority, suggested housing officials conduct an official town hall meeting to wedge the gap in communication and ease residential concerns, stressing the hazardous living conditions residents have had to endure with maintenance and housing officials failing to inspect and update dwellings, process maintenance requests and fix repairs.
“I’ve been waiting a couple of years now for maintenance to fix my bannister,” Zambrano said.
While Vann failed to address the concerns of the roughly 25 residents in attendance, she informed residents that gas would be turned on in roughly six weeks. She said housing officials will be voting on a proposal this week to install propane tanks to each of the 13 buildings on the complex, so they “no longer need to rely on Con Edison.”
If approved, installation will take two weeks per building with two buildings being done simultaneously, Vann said.
Residents debunked Vann’s claim that installation would only take six weeks. They cited safety concerns with the propane tanks being susceptible to children, animals and bullets, and questioned who would bear the brunt of the anticipated elevated cost of propane.
“It needs to be noted that this has affected us physically, mentally and spiritually,” Allen said. “Something needs to be done”