‘How long will my gas be out?’: Brooklyn pol presses NYCHA on winter preparedness

Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel.
John McCarten, City Council

As head of the City Council’s Committee on Public Housing, Brooklyn Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel questioned New York City Housing Authority reps on Tuesday ahead of the cold winter months on their level of preparedness for heat outages. 

“I cannot count how many times I’ve received calls from residents, requesting hot plates and asking that million dollar question — ‘How long will my gas be out?’ — to which I never have an answer,” Ampry-Samuel said at an Oct. 12 hearing.

Ampry-Samuel will most likely be tapped by President Joe Biden as the US  Department of Housing and Urban Development’s next regional director, a role in which she would have greater oversight over New York’s public housing network. But oversight over the lengthy process of replacing broken boilers and answering thousands of complaints is more difficult than it looks.

NYCHA maintenance representatives, however, shared data that shows outages have decreased significantly over the past three years. From 2018 to 2019, there were 1,224 heat outages across the city’s public housing complexes, but last heat season there were only 584. 

“We brought down the average time to restore total outages by nearly 20 percent, from 8.8 hours to 7.3 hours, below the 12 hour restoration target,” said NYCHA Chief Operating Officer Vito Mustaciuolo. “We want to keep bringing these numbers down even more.”

Since then, Mustaciuolo said, the agency has started a planned outages program in the offseason where they turn off the heat in order to do more maintenance work. They’ve also been using automatic calls to check in with residents to see if they’re still experiencing an outage.

“In addition, we are investing $28 million in city operating funding to replace approximately 400 heating equipment components, such as hot water boiler replacements, heat control panels and tanks,” the CEO said.

To date, NYCHA has replaced 64 boilers across its complexes, and the agency says it’s on track to replace 297 by 2026. 

Still, it remains unclear what will happen in the meantime for residents experiencing outages, aside from rapid repairs. When heating outages happen, it’s likely that families will have to rely on small space heaters, or try to find somewhere else to stay — and extra food and water, blankets and more may not be resources that every family can stock up on to prepare for a very cold winter.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which predicts long range weather forecasts based on solar science, predicts a rough winter ahead for New York. Calling it a “season a shivers,” the editor of the Almanac said it could be one of the longest and coldest winters the city has seen in years.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done,” Ampry-Samuel said Tuesday, vowing to make the process of pressing NYCHA and gaining feedback about issues such as heating and other repair work an ongoing one. “[These are] definitely issues that we need to look into and have [the Department of Youth & Community Development] address.”

A version of this story first ran on amNewYork.