Living in jeopardy: Hook Houses residents not paying rent, going to court to force fixes

Living in jeopardy: Hook Houses residents not paying rent, going to court to force fixes
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

Some tenants of the borough’s largest public-housing complex who can wait years for dangerous leaks and infestations in their units to be fixed said the only way to force repairs is by withholding rent and taking the city to court.

Residents at the Red Hook Houses, which are owned by the New York City Housing Authority, said their requests to repair leaky ceilings and remove harmful mold go unaddressed for so long that they have no choice but to risk their financial security in order to get their problems resolved.

“The only time they do a few repairs is when I stop paying rent,” said Hiedi Talavera, who lives on Columbia and Bush streets. “It’s horrible. It makes my credit bad, but that’s the only way I can get housing to pay attention.”

Talavera, who lives with a daughter whom she says suffers from asthma, has demanded for three months that her bathroom be cleansed of its black mold, which can cause respiratory problems. She filed a maintenance ticket in August, prompting a visit from a woman who took pictures of the apartment and told her she would be back the next day. But no one returned, and the fungus is still growing while she and her daughter are forced to live among the spores.

The problem is so bad that Talavera said she stays at her mother’s house when possible to avoid aggravating her youngster’s condition.

To get results, she has stopped paying rent at least three times. The move prompts an appearance at housing court, where she can argue her case before a judge, who orders the fixes after hearing about her living conditions. But Talavera said she is sick of jumping through bureaucratic hoops just so she can live in a habitable apartment.

“It’s not a way that anyone should live,” she said. “They want their rent on time but they can’t make any repairs for me to live like a normal person. It’s ridiculous.”

Another tenant has waited nearly half a year for someone to fix a leaky ceiling that water gushes through during storms, which she said results in flooding, warped walls, and mildew from retained moisture.

She must mop up her hallway and bedroom every time it rains, a routine that has taken a toll on the resident, who said she suffers from epilepsy and that the stress of the situation caused three attacks this year.

“Every time it rains I have this flood,” said Carmen Torres, who lives on Columbia Street near West Ninth Street. “It’s terrible, I just don’t want to be here.”

Torres filed a maintenance ticket in April after coming home to find inches of water accumulating in her apartment, but nothing was done, she said. A judge ordered repairs following her August appearance in housing court and someone showed up to take photos of her unit that month, but never returned to execute the fixes, Torres said.

And now she doesn’t know what to do, saying she’d rather have the problem resolved than repeatedly have to deal with the courts.

“I don’t want to sue NYCHA, I just want to live happily in my apartment,” she said. “I want it to be fixed.”

A third tenant’s roof leaked for two years before a repairman came to fix it in 2016. But he put in corking to plug the holes, which she said has largely been ineffective. The fix holds up in rain, she said, but it doesn’t stop melting snow in the winter from seeping through, causing the paint to chip off her apartment’s walls. And she’s worried her 10-month-old son and 7-year-old daughter will get sick from the chemicals in the paint.

“It’s affecting me a lot, I have little kids and I’m scared for them. I don’t want them to get any illnesses,” said Marie Santos, who lives on Columbia and West Ninth streets.

Santos has to take time off to wait for a repairman, who often just shows up to examine the problem, but does not actually fix it, she said.

“It’s very frustrating, because it takes a lot of my time,” Santos said.

Santos is scheduled to return to court to appeal for a better repair, but said she’s feeling helpless and hopes the media or Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Red Hook) will help bring attention to her situation.

The housing authority began to repair Red Hook Houses’ roofs earlier this month, nearly five years after the superstorm Sandy decimated the neighborhood.

The project is designed to solve many quality-of-life issues within the apartment complex, according to an agency spokeswoman, who claimed workers repaired the leaks in Santos’ and Torres’ units this month and that the landlord recently introduced an initiative to better serve its tenants.

“Staff completed repairs to address the leak in Ms. Santos’s apartment on Sept. 15 and expect to fix the leak in Ms. Torres’s apartment by Sept. 25,” said Zodet Negron. “All NYCHA residents deserve safe, clean homes. We can and will do better, which is why we launched and are aggressively implementing our NextGen NYCHA strategic plan to become a better landlord.”

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill