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NYCHA Will Eliminate Backlog of 420,000 Repairs by End of 2013, Mayor Says

By Jeff Mays | January 31, 2013 4:30pm

HARLEM — The New York City Housing Authority will eliminate its backlog of 420,000 open repair requests by the end of this year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday.

But public housing residents at the complex where Bloomberg made the announcement said they were skeptical about whether city officials will be able to follow through on that promise.

Using $40 million, including $10 million from the City Council and $30 million in money NYCHA will save by eliminating inefficiencies, the oft-criticized agency will hire 1,200 more workers and streamline the repair process, Bloomberg said.

The backlog will be gone by the end of 2013 and the wait for repairs, which can now take up to two years, will be permanently reduced to one week for minor repairs, two weeks for major repairs and  24 hours for emergencies.

"We've got to make sure public housing is as good as it can possibly be given the constraints of buildings that are aging and funding that doesn't arrive," Bloomberg said at Drew Hamilton Houses at 143rd Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

NYCHA was able to identify operating inefficiencies in its administrative staff as the result of a controversial $10 million report on the agency's operation from the Boston Consulting Group, where NYCHA Chairman John Rhea previously worked.

Rhea said there will be fewer administrative staffers at NYCHA, and that will provide the money to fund the expedited repairs.

"The money in our existing budget is being deployed more efficiently," Rhea said.

Drew Hamilton Houses participated in an earlier version of the program where NYCHA used funds from the refinancing of its buildings to deploy maintenance workers to reduce the backlog at the 3,000-tenant complex.

But residents at Drew Hamilton said they remained doubtful that the plan would work.

At Elizabeth Hutchison's second-floor apartment, the disabled senior citizen showed wet plaster under her sink and newspaper on the floor that she had laid down to prevent the constant leakage of water for the past year and a half. She has to change the newspaper every day.

NYCHA wants to tear down a wall in her apartment, but she has refused because the agency told her it might take until 2016 to fix the wall.

"If they tear out the walls now, why should I have to wait until 2016 to get it fixed?" said Hutchinson. "People shouldn't have to live like this. We pay our rent."

Down the hall, a 13-year resident of Drew Hamilton Houses who gave her name as Ms. Mims said she had performed over $1,000 worth of work on her own apartment, including installing a backsplash in her kitchen to cover walls that crumbled because of a leak, rather than wait years for repairs.

"I just stopped asking. I fix things myself," said Mims, who laid tile flooring in her living room and wood tiles in her bedroom to fix the cracking tile that was there.

"They can't even do a bathroom paint job," she said of NYCHA while holding up a picture that covered bubbling plaster. "How are they going to fix all this backlog in a year? I'll believe it when I see it."

Barbara Barber, president of the Drew Hamilton Houses Tenant Association, said the complex is turning 50 and is dealing with burst pipes more frequently.

"It has to change and it has to change soon," said Barber. "I'm going to watch them and I'm going to hold them accountable.

Rhea said the agency has already started making the repairs and will issue quarterly reports on its progress.

"You get rid of the cynicism by doing the job," Bloomberg said.

Assemblyman Keith Wright, chairman of the Assembly housing committee, said backlog repair issues at NYCHA developments are one of the biggest issues his office handles.

"The backlog of work orders is something we hear about all the time, the frustration that these residents go through each and every day," Wright said.