Ethel Powell, a 98-year-old resident of 161 W. 140th Street, worries that at her age she might have an accident heating up water on her stove. Powell, and the 36 other families living in the Harlem city-owned co-op, are forced to heat water because the building has been without heat or hot water for nearly four weeks.
Conditions in the building have become so severe that tenants, activists and politicians stood united in front of their building Tuesday to demand the city take action. The building is owned by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), which has allowed conditions in the building to deteriorate.
“We have a building in crisis right here. This is a building — 161 W. 140th St. — that has been in total disrepair,” said State Assemblyman Keith Wright. “We have approximately 37 families living in this building, we have approximately 35 vacant units in this building and when I tell you that these units that are lived in right now, people should not even be living in those units right now.”
Wright said that the building had a rampant mold problem, has been infested by bed bugs and vermin and has a busted boiler. But when tenants asked the HPD for a new boiler the department insisted it was too expensive, Wright said.
Instead of spending $116,000 for a new boiler HPD has spent around $50,000 on repairs, which have not worked. With Winter coming, many of the building’s residents, including 98-year-old Powell, are worried the cold will aggravate conditions suffered by the building’s elderly, sick and blind residents.
Beatrice Hunter, 81, said she suffers from arthritis and shingles, but still has to heat water in a teapot to bathe everyday. Hunter also said that she has to plug holes in her apartment to prevent mice and rats from getting in, despite three visits from exterminators.
But it was the city’s response to the lack of heat that Wright said was “beyond deplorable.” When the boiler broke, the city sent the tenants sleeping bags to keep warm, Wright said.
“As a city-owned building HPD even sent up some 70 sleeping bags. Now who does that?” Wright said. “Why would you have to send sleeping bags to a city-owned building in the year 2016? This is not summer camp, we are not going for a trip into the country, we are here in NYC in a rapidly-changing neighborhood.”