Residents at NYCHA’s Surfside Gardens in Coney Island have been without cooking gas and unable to cook in their own homes for seven months.
“It’s terrible,” said Marcy Jackson, a resident leader at the complex. “There has been no gas since August.”
Area Councilmember Ari Kagan told Brooklyn Paper that he’s demanded answers from NYCHA, the state’s low-income housing arm, on when cooking gas would be returned, but said he’s only heard excuses from the agency.
“Every time another excuse, another explanation,” he said.
The first-term Coney Island representative said the issue has come to a boiling point, and that he’s now asking the agency to provide rent rebates to residents of the three buildings without gas in the housing complex, who he says are dealing with a multitude of issues in addition to the lack of cooking gas.
“Now, I am demanding a rent rebate,” Kagan said. “NYCHA should not be charging people the same rent who do not have essentials services.”
Jackson said the problem isn’t new. The heat goes out every year during winter, she said, adding that residents need new windows, elevators, better maintenance, and — if she had to guess — a top-to-bottom renovation of the building.
“The elevators, every other day they break, they’re not working. Then, every year is the same thing with the heat, when it’s the wintertime they freeze us to death,” she said. “They need to do something with this building. It’s ridiculous.”
Instead of offering a timeline on when the cooking gas will be restored, Kagan said NYCHA claims it has supported their residents by providing restaurant coupons and hot plates, which the councilmember said is not enough help to get by.
“They give hotplates,” he said. “Can you support a family on a hot plate, can you support your family for seven months on a hot plate?”
Jackson said the last she heard, gas wasn’t expected to return until next year.
“Somebody came months ago, and said it was going to be like 2023 or something before we get the gas back on,” she said. “Nobody came back yet.”
Earlier this month, the issues at the complex culminated in a fire that ravaged the lone building with cooking gas on W. 31st Street— leaving one dead and three hospitalized with injuries. The culprit? A space heater.
“For several days before the fire, there was no heat,” Kagan explained. “This elderly couple had their space heater on and fell asleep, you know what happened after that.”
Adding insult to injury, Kagan told Brooklyn Paper that NYCHA has also refused to take responsibility for the fire.
“Do you think NYCHA sent an email to me or anybody saying, ‘Oh, it’s our fault?’” Kagan said. “Of course not.”
A spokesperson for NYCHA said the interruption of gas for 376 apartments in Surfside Gardens was due to a leak on the main line that is requiring asbestos management to resolve. The restoration is currently in the asbestos abatement stage, requiring multiple partners and steps.
“Gas service interruptions and repairs are a matter of public safety,” the rep said in a statement to Brooklyn Paper. “This interruption is due to a leak on the main line and we are currently in the asbestos abatement stage of the restoration process, which involves multiple partners and steps, including shutting off the gas service and making necessary repairs and inspections.”
While the representative did not provide an estimated date of completion, they confirmed that NYCHA has provided residents with hot plates — and maintained that the agency has provided regular updates on repair progress.
“NYCHA has provided hot plates to affected residents and we are providing regular progress updates,” the spox said.
But Kagan, who represents Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Seagate, Gravesend and Bath Beach, said he’s still looking for the agency to own up to the problems at hand. At a recent meeting with NYCHA’s federal monitor, Bart Schwartz, the pol said he expressed his frustration with the agency’s lack of responsiveness to their tenant’s — his constituents’ — complaints.
“We focused on a complete lack of any accountability of NYCHA leadership & property managers when it comes to responsiveness to tenants’ complaints,” Kagan tweeted following the meeting.
My office team had an extensive conversation w/Federal Monitor Bart Shwartz appointed to oversee @NYCHA.
We focused on a complete lack of any accountability of NYCHA leadership & property managers when it comes to responsiveness to tenants' complaints.https://t.co/KJHlkFQRp9 pic.twitter.com/N83A4KWQNW
— Council Member Ari Kagan (@CMAriKagan47) March 23, 2022
Kagan has also introduced a new law in the City Council that aims to compel the state legislature and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to improve accountability at NYCHA — controlled dually by the state and federal agencies — by auditing the responsiveness of their property managers to residential complaints.
That bill will go before the full Council for a vote on March 24.
“My resolution … would start auditing property managers in NYCHA’s responses to general complaints,” said Kagan. “This way, the state and the federal would start changing their reaction to the complaints.”
Correction (March 24, 10:55 am): The story has been corrected to include that there are four buildings in NYCHA’s Surfside Gardens and that three of the four buildings are without gas. The recent fire was at the building that has cooking gas.