'It's Not Safe to Live Like This'

Public housing residents on the Upper East Side sue the city, charging neglect and mismanagement

27 Jan 2020 | 12:47

A group of Upper East Side residents are fed up with living in buildings filled with rats, broken doors and elevators, and poor lighting. They have taken their fight to court.

A spokesman for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) said the residents filed two separate lawsuits in December, one for Isaacs Houses (with 10 named tenants) and one for Holmes Towers (with 22 named tenants). The first hearing took place Jan. 15 and both cases were adjourned until Feb. 6, for a motion to dismiss filed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Department of Buildings and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

NYCHA’s motion to dismiss was denied.

Problems over the past three years cited in the lawsuits, filed in civil court, include broken elevators, rat and vermin infestation, broken doors, excessive heat, inadequate lighting and garbage everywhere.

Holmes Towers is located at 1780 First Avenue and 405 East 92nd Street, and Isaacs Houses at 1830 First Avenue, 1806 First Avenue and 419 East 93rd Street.

“The lack of repairs is a systematic problem within all NYCHA campuses,” said Saundrea Coleman, who formed a tenant coalition in June 2019 with Jose Guvera and La Keesha Taylor, who are all named as plaintiffs.

Thousands of Complaints

According to the lawsuits, since Jan. 1, 2016, residents of Isaacs Houses made over 600 complaints regarding the elevators, including 62 requests to rescue passengers who were trapped in elevators, and filed 1,400 complaints for the lack of heat or hot water. In that same period, the lawsuits state, Holmes Towers residents filed "approximately 3,800 complaints related to violations of the Housing Maintenance Code..."

Coleman, 53, who has lived in the Holmes Towers for 23 years and Isaacs for the past four, spoke to Straus News about the unsafe living conditions. Living with excessive heat and not being able to open a window because of fear of rats is unbearable, she said. “It’s not just the last five or 10 years" she said. It’s decades of neglect."

Coleman lives on a fixed income and, like many others, cannot afford to make repairs on her own or relocate. “If we don’t have any money to move anywhere else, then where do you go?” she said.

Taylor, 38, a lifelong resident of the Isaac Towers, said she has never seen things this bad. As the mother of two sons, she felt compelled to put her name on the lawsuit and get justice for the people in the buildings.

She said her children have been late to school many times because of the shoddy elevators, adding that they were installed just two years ago. “It’s not safe to live like this,” she said. “There’s no reason from day one that these elevators behave the way they behave.”

Taylor noted that, in the past, management would fix things, but now it seems they just don’t care. “Your stove can be on its last legs and they will try and put tape around it,” she said. “It’s disgusting.”

Taylor said NYCHA brought her a stove recently that had an ignition that burned so high and dangerously that she would not allow her children near it.

“NYCHA is telling the residents what they feel about them by what they are putting in their rooms and by what they are putting in these buildings,” she said. “We have to fight back. This is ridiculous.”