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Stimulus Check: Three Months After Sidewalk Bridges Go Up, NYCHA Begins Repair Work

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Photo by Bill Morris

Bill Morris, a novelist, freelance journalist and LES resident, noticed something peculiar near his apartment on East 5th Street. So he decided to do some sleuthing. Here’s what he found:

Taxpayers, rejoice!  Now that you’ve paid your state and federal income taxes, you’ll be thrilled to know that your tax dollars are hard at work right here on the Lower East Side.

Last week, workers finally started replacing the roof on the L.E.S. II public housing complex — more than three months after protective bridges went up above 240 yards of sidewalk on East 5th and 6th Sts.

Normally, cost-conscious construction crews put up sidewalk bridges just before beginning work because the bridges are expensive.  But until this project began April 19th, the New York City Housing Authority was paying for bridges that protected pedestrians from nothing more treacherous than snowflakes, raindrops and bird droppings.  The standard cost for such bridges, according to several scaffolding companies, is an eyelash over $100,000.

All this at a time when NYCHA is suffering widely publicized budget woes and service cuts.  The authority, which runs the city’s public housing complexes,  gets the bulk of its money from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.  In recent years, as the flow of federal dollars has dwindled, the authority has cut hundreds of jobs, raised rent of its highest-income households, dipped into reserves and postponed or cut dozens of repair jobs.  A recent infusion of $23.5 million from HUD covered just over half of the budget gap in the authority’s rental voucher program — and temporarily forestalled possible evictions of 10,000 low-income city residents living in privately owned apartments.  In published reports, the authority has blamed its money troubles on inadequate federal aid and rising energy and labor costs.  No mention of poor management.

Indeed, NYCHA spokeswoman Sheila Stainback contends that linking the authority’s money problems to the efficiency — or inefficiency — of its construction program is like  “comparing apples and oranges.”

Funny.  I thought one tax dollar was much like any other tax dollar.

Stainback says L.E.S. II is one of four housing authority buildings undergoing roof replacements and asbestos abatement at a cost of $1.4 million under a one-year contract that ends in July.  The bulk of the project’s cost, $902,000, is coming from federal “stimulus money” provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  “NYCHA paid one fee for the bridges, and it was $464,000 — we do not pay by the month,” Stainback said.

That’s reassuring.  What’s even more reassuring to pedestrians on East 5th and 6th Sts. — and to taxpayers citywide — is the knowledge that those sidewalk bridges are finally doing what they were put there to do.

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