LES Gas Outages: Cooking on a Hot Plate for Four Months

Some apartments in the Smith Houses have been without gas since January.

This week Lower East Side residents vented their frustration at city housing officials, who struggled to explain why apartments in three NYCHA developments have been without gas for up to four months.  The tenants came to a meeting Wednesday night organized by State Senator Daniel Squadron. They peppered managers of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the Department of Buildings with questions about the handling of the gas outages, which have impacted more than 50 apartments in three complexes.

The officials said safety problems were discovered when workers began replacing ovens at the Smith, Baruch and Two Bridges housing developments. They said the gas lines were cut so that emergency repairs could be made. Hot plates were distributed to affected tenants, who have had to make do without fully functioning kitchens for many weeks.

Citing the need to follow strict procedures, complications caused by the presence of asbestos in the buildings and a shortage of plumbers, the officials tried to explain why the repairs were taking so long. Robert Knapp of NYCHA said “we could have done better and we will do better in the future.”

But the tenants were furious. “You’re way out of line,” said Patricia James of Two Bridges. “You have violated our lease. We have been inconvenienced to damn near death.” The tenants complained that the hot plates were a fire hazard, that many of them didn’t even work and that NYCHA failed to hand out instructions. The officials said it was NYCHA policy to distribute the hot plates, “It’s not a great substitute but it’s something we offer,” one manager said.

John Quinn, a district leader, shot back, “maybe you should cook with a hot plate in your apartment for four months.”  Suggesting only public housing tenants would be left hanging in this way, Quinn added, “if this happened at Southbridge Towers (a stone’s throw from the Smith Houses) the board would be gone.”

Even though some tenants have been dealing with the situation since January, Senator Squadron and other elected officials working on their behalf, were only made aware of the problem a couple of weeks ago. When the system is working “properly,” Squadron said, it seems like it takes about two weeks to repair a gas line in a NYCHA development. But he said, “it seems crazy to me that it should take four months.”

It became apparent that, prior to Wednesday’s meeting, NYCHA had been pointing a finger at the Department of Buldings, indicating they were partly to blame for the delays. A DOB representative said any emergency application would be processed within 24 hours. NYCHA conceded, however, that they hadn’t made it clear on every application that they were dealing with an emergency situation. Squadron said, emphatically, “every time the gas goes out you need to consider it an emergency.”

The residents and tenant advocates from GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side) demanded compensation. They said people living in the impacted apartments have had to spend a lot of money in the past few months eating out because their ovens and stove-tops haven’t been functioning. Squadron told the residents the mid-level managers present at the meeting could not address the compensation issue, but he promised to work with the tenants to get them reimbursements.

The officials said they hoped the gas would be back on in the Smith Houses today. At two Bridges, it will be another week before the repairs are completed. NYCHA promised to keep the tenants better informed.

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh and Councilmember Margaret Chin have also been working with the residents on the issue.