A Gowanus public housing development suffered water outages for five days straight this week, and a lackadaisical response by the Housing Authority left residents scrambling to quench the thirst of the complex’s most vulnerable people.
During the outages, Wyckoff Gardens residents were forced to fill buckets with water from a pump hooked up to a fire hydrant outside, a process that was too difficult for some seniors and disabled people in the complex, according to one tenant.
“We have senior citizens and people who are bed-ridden and they can’t go and get water from a pump,” said Beverly Corbin, who lives in the development and was part of an effort to distribute water on Jan. 5. “NYCHA should be notifying the residents.”
A failure of the development’s central pumping system around 2 am on Jan. 4 cut off water to all three buildings until about 9 pm that night, according to the Housing Authority, though some residents on higher floors reported not having service restored until 10 pm or later. A series of mishaps involving replacement pumps caused subsequent outages over the next several days.
The pump system in 272 Wyckoff St. functions by pulling water up into a rooftop holding tank, then distributing it down to the other two buildings. When the aging pump failed on Jan. 4, plumbers and Housing Authority personnel connected the system to a temporary pump, but that pump lacked an automatic on-off function, meaning that to avoid overfilling the holding tank and flooding the building, the temporary pump had to be shut off periodically, leading to temporary outages on Jan. 5 and 6.
On Jan. 7, when plumbers set up what was meant to be the permanent replacement pump, the system didn’t work at all, leading to more than five hours without water in the complex and another several dry hours last Thursday when workers returned to fix the permanent pump once and for all. When this reporter visited Corbin and several of her neighbors at Wyckoff Gardens on Thursday the water was off, and though service was restored by mid-afternoon, low pressure caused some floors to run dry again Thursday evening until about 11 pm, according to residents.
Corbin, who uses a wheelchair to get around, said superstorm Sandy should have taught the Authority the importance of emergency planning.
“It’s a sad commentary on NYCHA, especially after Sandy, to not be able to help poor people,” she said. “I guess we were supposed to walk to the well singing spirituals.”
Residents gathered in Corbin’s apartment on Thursday were upset going without water, but reserved special ire for the Housing Authority, which they said failed to communicate with residents about what was being done, or how those in need could get water. Earlier in the week, they said the water had already been turned off by the time notices went up in hallways, and several reported calling the agency and being told that the office had no information about water outages. There was also no comprehensive plan for checking on vulnerable residents, which a local pol said is unacceptable.
“NYCHA should have been out there making sure senior citizens and people with disabilities had water,” said Councilman Steve Levin (D–Gowanus), who showed up on Thursday to speak with residents. “It is a terrible feeling for people to not know what’s wrong or when it will be fixed.”
Not everyone in the development was entirely upset about the Housing Authority’s response, however. One tenant leader chided the agency for its failure to notify residents of impending outages, but praised the workers who toiled around the clock to restore service.
“I would be the first to tell you we got some issues, but they worked hard and they pulled all-nighters, and the Housing Authority really put in their all,” said Charlene Nimmons, president of the development’s resident association. “NYCHA didn’t go down there and break the pump.”