The Housing Authority needs $1.5 billion to ensure all of its 3,200 elevators are functioning, agency officials testified at a Sept. 4 City Council hearing—and more than the 10 certified inspectors it currently staffs to examine them.
Across 326 developments, NYCHA saw elevator outages increase from 38,000 in 2012 to more than 44,000 in 2018, according to NY1. NYCHA officials testified that between this past January and August the number of outages was 28,400, about 500 fewer than during the same period a year earlier.
Not Nearly Enough Budgeted
NYCHA allocates $74 million to maintain and repair elevators, and plans to replace about 400 elevators at 30 developments by 2027. But agency officials believed it would cost $1.5 billion to fully restore the aging and broken equipment.
The agency’s elevator unit has approximately 430 employees, 193 of whom make repairs. But there are just 10 certified Inspectors and 40 licensed mechanics, and no funding to hire more.
“I would love to be able to hire 300 Inspectors, 400 Inspectors, whatever that number that I need, but we are resource challenged,” said Joey Koch, NYCHA’s Senior Vice President for Operations Support Services. “So unfortunately, we have 10 Inspectors. That’s what we have.”
NYCHA officials said there are teams that do repairs on nights and weekends, and that it was working with Teamsters Local 237 to boost staffing during those times.
The widespread outages were just one piece of a broader crisis at NYCHA, which has $32-billion in capital needs. Bart Schwartz, the Federal monitor appointed to oversee the agency’s reforms to eliminate unsafe and unsanitary conditions, in his July report was concerned that “immediate improvements in NYCHA elevator service are unlikely due to a significant shortage of [elevator] maintenance workers and because the existing NYCHA elevator portfolio is largely beyond its expected lifespan and/or otherwise in poor working condition.”
Disabled Family’s Ordeal
The case of Nancy Montanez, who is disabled and has been trapped in her building at the Throggs-Neck Houses with her blind 42-year-old daughter who has cerebral palsy because it has been without a working elevator since May 30, sparked outrage from the Council.
Council Member Mark Gjonaj slammed the agency for not setting the standard for private landlords, particularly because elevator service would not be restored to the Bronx building until Oct. 30. Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo questioned why HA Chair Gregory Russ, who started the job three weeks earlier, was not at the hearing.
Ms. Koch admitted at the hearing that because the unit was cash-strapped, the team was working strategically in its repair and maintenance work: for example, NYCHA only recently began determining the cause of each elevator outage in its work-order database.
“The numbers are shocking. That is why we are working with HUD and the Federal monitor very diligently,” she said. “We have problems with our elevators. It's not a secret. We are not pretending it’s not a problem.”
A Council Skeptic
Council Member Fernando Cabrera called HA’s uphill battle to maintain elevators a losing one.
“You can be as strategic as you could be, you could be a 10, but if you don’t have the resources, you’re not going to get it done,” he said. “I know that’s a depressing thought, but the way I see it, we’re not going to see it in our lifetime. They put in a Federal monitor, but give me some money to get the job done.”
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.