EAST HARLEM — Residents are blasting a pilot program designed to streamline repair requests in New York City Housing Authority buildings, despite the city's claims it's working.
In January 2015, NYCHA put property managers of 18 developments (five in East Harlem) in charge of maintenance and repairs at their own buildings by giving them their own budgets and authority to contract out the work.
Before the "OPMOM" program, everything went through NYCHA’s centralized system.
During the program’s first year, maintenance response times at the Lincoln Houses dropped from a 40-day average last January to 13.5 days in November. At the Wagner Houses, they were cut down to 2.5 days, according to NYCHA.
But at the East River Houses, where NYCHA did not provide data on maintenance response times, residents told a different story.
“We got better service when were were under NYCHA than when we’ve been under OPMOM,” said resident Theresa Richardson.
Her apartment has not had hot water since Monday, she added.
The most visible sign of the pilot program’s failure — at least when it comes to maintenance in the East River Houses — is the trash area on 102nd Street. Piles as high as 7 feet attract rats the size of small raccoons, Richardson said.
Richardson blames the pile on the property manager.
A contractor from a New Jersey-based company hired by the property manager to remove part of the trash said they don’t have a set schedule, but come whenever they're requested.
Even though the contractor filled a dumpster full of trash, it didn't put a dent in the large pile on 102nd Street.
East River Houses’ trash problem is so bad that people across the street can smell if from the eighth floor, resident Willy Ford said.
“It stinks,” he said. “Right before Christmas there was trash on the sidewalk. People had to walk in the street; they don’t know what’s going to pop out of there.”
According to NYCHA, response times to emergency repairs at the East River Houses have decreased under the new program. The average time it takes to make those repairs has gone from 25 hours in October to 14 hours in November (annual figures were not available). The program's goal is to stay below 24 hours.
Victor Bach, a Senior Housing Policy Analyst for Community Service Society, has spoken to a number of NYCHA residents and staff about the program over the last year. He has not heard glowing reviews.
“Over the past year the first impression I get is that people don’t think it’s really working,” he said. “The decentralization is basically a good idea but hasn’t been well implemented. The thing I kept hearing is managers have not been properly trained.”
In terms of managing their money, three of the five East Harlem developments were over budget in October 2015, but were able to bring spending down the following month, according to NYCHA.
Wagner and East River were both under budget for both October and November. Budget figures for the entire year were not available.
The Housing Authority said the program is a vital part of their NextGen plans for the future. The agency plans to implement it throughout the five boroughs in the future.
East Harlem’s rezoning Steering Committee recommends that if the program expands, it should be more efficient and transparent. Specifically, they’d like to see more training for managers and allowing them to complete work on the weekends.
Members of the Community Board, including the chairwoman of the housing committee, Wendy Hewlett, agreed that managers need more tools to succeed.
“You can’t put a property manager in a position to manage and they have no Rolodex,” Hewlett said. “They don’t know how to call a roofer, they don’t know how to call a plumber, they don’t know how to call a painter. If you don’t have a Rolodex how are you going to make a call?”