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Backlog of Repairs Frustrates Public Housing Residents

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The New York City Housing Authority says it doesn't have enough staff to handle the millions of calls that come in to a centralized call center each year.

The cash-strapped authority says between 2004 and 2009 it shed more than 1,500 jobs. At the same time, certain types of work orders have increased dramatically. The result? Tenants waiting years for repairs.

At a state assemly hearing Tuesday, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal who represents Manhattan's West Side, criticized NYCHA for trying to evict tenants who withhold rents because of a lack of repairs. NYCHA general manager, Michael Kelly defended the practice. Rosenthal told assemblymembers, "It plays out very dangerously, because we need that valuable rent money to do the repairs. A two-year wait could be a four-year wait."

Rosenthal suggested that cutting down on court filings could save the authority money. Tenants attending the hearing cheered the response. While some tenants are having to respond to court filings others are turning the tables and using the courts to get problems fixed. Arlene Dayton from the Parkside Houses, in the North Bronx, said she and her elderly neighbors recently took NYCHA to housing court to get leaky roofs fixed -- and the problem still hasn't been resolved.  Dayton said, "It's affecting the ceiling area, the walls, the entire wall where it has bubbled and cracked and now it has turned into mold and mildew." Dayton said a court-ordered inspector found that the individual roof leaks were because the roof needs to be replaced.

NYCHA said it's focusing on major building improvements to cut down on individual apartment repairs. But General Manager Michael Kelly says the fund for major improvements is about $6 billion short of what's needed.

Housing advocates said there's also another problem: the main city agency that polices private landlords doesn't do so for NYCHA buildings.

The New York City Housing Authority is not subject to housing code violations, leaving tenants with nowhere to turn when repairs don't get made.

A private landlord can be reported to the City's housing department for failing to resolve things like rat infestations or mold and mildew. But that's not the case for the City's largest landlord, the New York City Housing Authority. Legal Aid attorney Ellen Davidson represents public housing tenants unable to get housing codes enforced and said "When you come up with lists of the worst landlords every year, NYCHA will never make that list, because there are no housing code violations on any of their buildings because the City has refused to place them."

The City's housing department said any 311 calls about housing violations are transferred to NYCHA's repair line.

NYCHA said it answers to the Department of Housing and Urban Development when it comes to upkeeping its properties.