“It's ridiculous,” said Pamela Cowherd, a resident of the building for 10 years, who rallied other residents to demand an explanation from the Housing Authority. “Then the superintendent told me that it would take as long as six months to one year to turn back on, I thought he was joking.”
According to NYCHA, the gas was turned off in the building after a staff member noticed that there was a leak in the overhead supply line in the basement. The Housing Authority distributed hot plates later on that night to every household but never gave them a specific timeline as to when the gas would be turned back on.
“I was told it would be for a few days, but I think it's going to be a while,” Cowherd said. “There's nothing I can do now, I'm trying to use crock pots that I got as gifts for Christmas. We have to do what we can.”
On Thursday night, NYCHA staff members, along with Councilman Stephen Levin, met with the residents in the lobby of the building to field their concerns, and promised that the situation would be resolved as quickly as possible.
Senior Deputy Director of NYCHA, Michael Rosen, said that it will take about four to five weeks for the gas to be turned back on.
But for residents, that's not soon enough. The building's 80 percent Jewish population is worried about how they will cook and obtain food, given that two major holidays are coming up – Purim, on March 7 and Passover, on April 6.
“It costs me six times the amount to go out and buy cooked food,” said one resident. “Who has money for that? These are middle-income people.”
Another resident who gave his name as J. Stark, said that buying food will cost him a fortune.
“Kosher food is extremely expensive, cooked chicken for a family is triple the normal amount,” he said. “For Purim we have to buy special food and cook and that will cost a fortune.”
And many residents on Thursday night said that they were either burned or shocked when attempting to turn on the hot plates. One elderly resident, Daniel, was shocked so bad, he said he hit the floor twice.
“I was burned when trying to turn it on,” said resident Mayra Ducos, who lives on the 15th floor. “My son was passing by after it was turned off and he almost got burned too.”
Rosen said he knows the plates are not good enough but it's something to make do.
“We tried to do something to ease the situation; it's what we're able to do,” he said.
Rosen told residents that if they were concerned about using the hot plates, to refrain from using them. But residents blasted his comment, saying NYCHA should do more.
“They should be concerned,” Cowherd said. “They should have someone check in to make sure everything is okay; everybody just can't run to housing like that; there are elderly people in here.”
Some residents asked for ovens but NYCHA said that they will give residents as many hot plates as they need.
Levin told residents that he will work to get the situation resolved as quickly as possible, as well as to get residents compensation.
“This is not an easy thing,” he said. “I understand that for everybody, whether you're a family with multiple children or whether you are a senior citizen, the situation is not workable for really even one more day. You have my commitment that we are going to be moving this as quickly as it could possibly go.”
Levin said that he will try to work with the chairman of NYCHA to compensate residents, whether it be in the form of a rent abatement or a debit card enabling them to buy food they normally eat.
“Going out and buying food for a larger family is extremely expensive and there are seniors that don't have the ability to go out every evening and lunch time for a meal, so this is something that needs to be addressed,” he said.
NYCHA also informed residents that the process of turning the gas back on would not be so simple. Although they already have a contractor who will do the work, an asbestos inspection needs to be performed on the entire building before any work to turn the gas back on begins.
Rosen said that notices will be put up in the building today to make each unit aware that on Sunday someone will be checking each apartment for asbestos.
Since the buildings were built in the 1960's, it is likely that asbestos lays within the walls and wiring. If there is asbestos, work on repairing the gas leak could disturb it.
“We have to identify if there is any first and where it is,” Rosen said. “Getting into every unit is extremely necessary and we would never skip that step.”
After the inspection is performed, Rosen said that the contractor will begin work next week and that a NYCHA staff member will monitor the progress.
NYCHA stressed to residents that the process will take some time. The Authority said they will have weekly meetings to keep residents informed of the progress and what the status of the repair is.
The first one will be at the Independence Towers' community center next Wednesday, February 29, at 6:30 p.m.