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City Pols Propose Legislation to Improve Elevator Safety in Public Housing

By  Eddie Small and Nicole Levy | April 5, 2017 5:51pm 

 Councilman Ritchie Torres, community advocate Marjorie Velazquez and Councilman James Vacca released a series of proposals aimed at increasing elevator safety on Wednesday.
Councilman Ritchie Torres, community advocate Marjorie Velazquez and Councilman James Vacca released a series of proposals aimed at increasing elevator safety on Wednesday.
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Jon Greenfield

THE BRONX — A pair of councilmen have proposed legislation meant to improve elevator safety at New York City's public housing in response to the death of an 84-year-old man.

Councilmen Ritchie Torres and James Vacca, along with community advocate Marjorie Velazquez, who is running for Vacca's City Council seat and has received his endorsement, released four proposals on Wednesday that would make up the NYCHA Elevator Safety and Accountability Act. The act would:

►Require NYCHA and all other building owners to annually maintain elevator brake monitors and elevator monitoring systems.

►Require the NYPD and FDNY to promptly notify NYCHA about any fatalities or injuries that occur on NYCHA property.

►Require the Department of Buildings to submit a report on the feasibility of installing brake monitors and remote elevator monitoring systems for elevators in all of the city's residential buildings.

►Establish a "NYCHA Building Code Watchdog" at the DOB to ensure that NYCHA complies with the Building and City Construction Codes.

NYCHA spokeswoman Zodet Negrón said the agency will review the proposals and looks forward to working on safety improvements with the City Council. DOB spokesman Alex Schnell said the agency is reviewing the legislation.

Torres stressed that these proposals were sparked by the death of Olegario Pabon, who died after an elevator accident at NYCHA's Boston Road Plaza senior building.

“Mr. Pabon’s death was a tragedy, and we owe it to his family and community to ensure a needless elevator death never happens again,” Torres said. “For too long, NYCHA residents have suffered from neglect and outright incompetence when it comes to building upkeep."

Pabon began to enter the elevator at NYCHA's Boston Road Plaza senior building on Dec. 24, 2015, but it started to drift upwards as he got on, catching his hand and leg and causing him to fall out.

He died three days later from his injuries, and the Department of Investigation released a scathing report about his death in March, which stated that NYCHA did nothing to fix the faulty elevator until four days after it broke.

NYCHA demoted Director of Elevators Ken Buny after the report came out, but he was still signing off on elevator repairs and inspections at the agency as of December, because, the agency said, he was the only NYCHA employee with the proper licensing to do so.

However, the NYCHA recently named David Graham, who has more than 30 years of repair experience, its senior deputy director of elevators, and he has taken over the responsibilities of signing off on repairs and inspections from Buny, according to NYCHA.

Ramona Minor, president of the tenants association at the De Hostos apartments on W. 93rd Street, said elevator malfunctions are a "ongoing problem" in her 22-story building and that tenants have occasionally become trapped inside.

"Some are prisoners of their own home because they're scared to ride up and down the elevators," said Minor, who noted the last breakdown occurred this Monday.

Vacca said that NYCHA has failed for years at providing safe living conditions for its tenants and maintained that the NYCHA Elevator Safety and Accountability Act would help the agency achieve some much needed improvements.

"It's disgraceful that it takes a fatality for NYCHA to even acknowledge the problems plaguing their buildings," he said. "NYCHA must be held accountable for their failings and lack of response to these critical issues."