Hospital administrators in the New York City metropolitan area are raising alarm bells over the incidence of COVID-19 infection among residents of public housing complexes managed by the New York City Public Housing Authority (NYCHA).
Public health officials worry that entrance doors and elevator buttons, which are not disinfected daily or even weekly at most complexes, have been exacerbating the spread of the virus among building residents. Overcrowed apartment units and narrow common spaces, like hallways and entrance foyers, also hasten the spread.
Current datasets don’t track patients by public housing residency, or any other housing status, though anecdotal observations suggest that nearly two-thirds of hospitalizations in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens are residents of NYCHA-managed housing complexes.
Several resident councils and tenant organizations have already been calling for federal receivership of NYCHA before the pandemic. Public housing residents have been pleading with the administration of Mayor Bill DeBlasio for help with lead paint remediation, a source of early childhood poisoning that has irreversible life-long impacts.
Now incensed, many public housing tenants have been calling on Dr. Ben Carson, the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to order a federal receivership of the housing authority.
That action, under the Housing Act of 1937, would allow the Secretary to immediately install a federal receiver to direct the operations of the housing authority “in a manner consistent with the statutory, regulatory, and contractual obligations of the PHA, and in accordance with additional terms and conditions as set forth by the Secretary.”
Currently, there are only two housing authorities being managed under federal receivership and they are small — Gary, IN, since July of 2013, and Cairo, IL, since February of 2016.
NYCHA owns more than 177,000 units — thought to be sitting atop $109 billion worth of real estate across the five boroughs — that typically house several individuals per unit.
For decades the massive bureaucracy has struggled to address overcrowding, dilapidation, poor maintenance, cleanliness, drug trade, and crime. It’s been estimated that the long-term neglect of basic building maintenance has ballooned capital investment needs to a city-wide figure of $40 billion.
A tenant council at the Van Dyke Houses, home to some 1,600 units in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, has been begging FEMA to distribute disinfectants and cleaning supplies to housing complexes so that elevators and entrance foyers can be regularly disinfected, but has received no such supplies to date.
The Chronicle is told that the Van Dyke complex alone has experienced ‘dozens’ of COVID-related deaths in recent weeks and that NYCHA residents account for more than 6,000 deaths citywide.