HARLEM — After it took five hours to cook a dinner of collard greens and fried chicken on the electric burner now serving as her stove, Joyce Johnson, 59, a resident of AK Houses in East Harlem, knows preparing Thanksgiving dinner for her family at her apartment is out of the question.
Residents of the 157-unit building on 128th Street between Lexington Avenue and Park Avenue have been without gas since Sept. 30 after it was shut off because of a leak.
"It took three hours to cook the collard greens and it takes an hour for the oil to heat up to fry the chicken," said Johnson, 59, a retired administrator. "There's no way to cook Thanksgiving dinner here. Where am I going to cook the turkey? Where will I put the macaroni and cheese?"
Now, after a lot of back and forth between city agencies and the management company, it appears gas began being restored on Tuesday morning.
Residents of the building say the lack of gas is cost them money because they were forced to purchase prepared food. Others, like Johnson, have bought heaters.
It is money many tenants say they cannot afford since the building is Section 8 affordable housing where tenants pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent.
"My daughter-in-law has five kids," said Annette McClam, 62, a retired school teacher who has lived in the building since it opened in 1980. "When she tries to cook dinner for them it takes all night."
Representatives from Tahl Propp Equities, which owns the property along with a large Harlem portfolio, say the gas was shut off after multiple tenants smelled gas and contacted Con Edison.
"We immediately took action to ensure uninterrupted heat and hot water for our tenants by installing a mobile boiler. In addition, we immediately hired qualified heating contractors to perform the required inspections and work needed to ensure gas service could be restored as soon as possible," said Tracey Hughes, a spokeswoman for Tahl Propp.
DOB records show they approved a permit for a plumber to repair a small portion of the gas line and fittings on the first floor of the building on Oct. 3.
Tahl Propp says they completed all required repairs and received approval from the Department of Buildings to restore service on Nov. 1, according to records provided by the organization.
Hughes says they requested an inspection from Con Edison on Nov. 8 after DOB's inspection results were available.
"There is no additional work for us to do for the gas service to be restored. We have reached out to our community partners to enlist their help to cause Con Ed to turn on the gas as soon as possible," added Hughes.
On Tuesday morning, Con Ed restored gas to the building, said spokeswoman D. Joy Faber. Now workers most go to each apartment to make sure gas can be restored to that unit.
Con Ed blamed the delay on illegal work they say was conducted on the gas line on Oct. 15 when service was restored without an integrity test being conducted.
A DOB spokeswoman said her agency spoke with the master plumber on the project this morning to resolve outstanding issues and allow gas to be restored.
Tenant president Brenda Colon said residents have been complaining to her about the lack of heat as well as the lack of gas.
"The tenants are angry. They feel like they should be getting gas, heat and hot water," she said while heating her dinner on the electric burner on top of her stove.
And with Thanksgiving around the corner, tenants were getting worried.
"People are going crazy. Not everyone has a place to go," said McClam.
Hughes defended the company, saying they have entered into a long-term agreement with the city to keep the development affordable for the next 30 years and plans $2 million worth of capital improvements such as a new roof, new elevators, facade work and heating system.
That agreement came after Tahl Propp was looking for support from Community Board 11 to purchase the city-owned plot next to its Lexington Gardens complex on East 107th Street, near Lexington Avenue, where the developer wants to build a 175-unit, 12-story addition.
Area groups opposed the agreement, saying Tahl Propp has not treated its tenants well, an accusation the company denies.
Tenants like Johnson say conditions at many of the apartments at AK Houses are less than ideal and they've had enough of excuses.
"It seems like they are taking their time getting this repaired and in the meantime are giving us bogus lies," she said.
McClam said the residents have begun to organize to address several other issues at the building.
"We've had poor living conditions for a long time and they started jumping to fix thing now because we put them under pressure," she said.