CLAREMONT — When Julia Saravia moved into Morris Houses 14 years ago with her four children, none of them had asthma.
However, two of them are now afflicted with the illness, and Saravia said she thinks the condition of her apartment had something to do with it.
"The 14 years I'm living here, we always have a leak," she said, adding that there's mold on her living room and bathroom walls.
Saravia and other Morris tenants went to Bronx Housing Court Monday morning to have their first housing court appearance in a suit against NYCHA that would force the agency to repair severe mold, water leaks, peeling paint, and broken windows and doors.
The issues are endangering the lives, health and safety of the tenants, according to a draft of the lawsuit. Some in the complex say the problem has been an issue for years.
The Urban Justice Center, an organization that serves low-income communities in New York City, is assisting the tenants with their legal action. Garrett Wright, senior staff attorney at the UJC's Community Development Project, described the suit as a last resort for the Morris Houses residents.
"Despite tenants' repeated requests to NYCHA and complaints to NYCHA to have these issues addressed in a timely manner, the city hasn’t done so," he said. "So we’ve been forced to file this case today."
Complaints in the suit, signed by 25 residents, stretches on for 17 pages. Their complaints include broken door locks, rotting furniture, walls with mold and mildew, and rats, mice and roaches.
Heidy Ross, a 45-year-old receptionist who has lived in Morris Houses for 14 years, said she has issues with backup wastewater coming out of her toilet and bathtub.
"All the waste comes out of the toilet," she said. "It's horrible."
"Even to live in poverty, we should not have to live that way," she continued.
NYCHA declined to comment on the specifics of the suit but defended their work on repairs in a statement.
"Under new leadership, NYCHA has made major strides in reducing its repairs backlog and wait times and continues to make progress," a spokeswoman said.
"Moving forward with shrinking resources to upgrade and repair its large, aging portfolio, NYCHA is also focused on developing a plan to preserve and maintain public housing for the next generation."
Housing Organizer Nova Strachan, who works at the community improvement organization Mothers on the Move, stressed that they were not trying to demonize NYCHA, an agency she described as the last option for affordable housing in the city.
But the city needs to keep that last-ditch housing option in good condition, she explained.
"We don't want to paint this picture that NYCHA is this big monster, just for the simple fact that NYCHA is the last affordable true housing in the country," she said. "So that's why we're making sure we want to maintain it. We want to preserve it so that we can have it for years to come."