National News

$82 Million Plan for New Boilers at New York Housing Projects

Posted January 31, 2018 8:50 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — Facing criticism over heating outages in public housing that have affected thousands of tenants this winter, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday announced a proposal to spend $82 million to install 39 replacement boilers to better heat 104 New York City Housing Authority buildings.

The investment, which targets 10 developments with chronic heating problems, would be added to the city’s capital spending plan, which must be approved by the City Council. The city’s public housing has been underfinanced for years, and many buildings have aging boilers prone to breaking down.

The proposed boiler replacement, according to a news release from the mayor’s office, would be completed by the end of 2022, a time frame that drew criticism from the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson.

“Tenants at these developments that have been identified don’t have four winters to wait to get fixed boilers,” Johnson said, answering reporters’ questions after a council meeting. He said that he supported increasing spending for public housing but called the amount of time projected for the boiler repairs “far too long.”

The authority said that it typically takes three to four years to design, make and install a boiler.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Housing Authority website indicated that buildings in six developments, in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, had lost either heat or hot water in the past two days and were undergoing repairs.

On Thursday, de Blasio will present his preliminary budget proposal for the coming fiscal year. Officials said that it will contain other initiatives to address the public housing heating crisis, including a new $74 million capital investment to modernize the hot water systems at 12 developments where heat and hot water are provided by a single boiler system.

The work will separate the heat and hot water systems, which will allow the Housing Authority to do maintenance on heating systems during warmer weather without having to shut down the hot water supply. An additional $27 million would be used to install new controls on existing boilers to make them work better.

In all, the series of improvements will be carried out at 20 developments with about 45,000 residents, the mayor’s office said.

The City Council will hold a hearing next week on the Housing Authority’s heating problems and Johnson said that the lawmakers will look closely at the mayor’s budget proposals.

“Is it the appropriate amount of money? Is it going to the right developments? What’s the timeline on procurements and actually getting repairs done?” he said.

In mid-January, as the outages got increasing attention, de Blasio said that he would spend $13 million to respond to heating emergencies, including hiring more repair staff, renting and buying additional mobile boilers and replacing heating equipment at some troubled complexes.

“This mayor is putting real resources to attack these problems,” said a mayoral spokeswoman, Olivia Lapeyrolerie.

Some council members have called for the housing authority’s chairwoman, Shola Olatoye, to be fired or to resign, following revelations that NYCHA failed for years to inspect for lead contamination in many apartments and then concealed the failure.

“I need more answers to questions,” Johnson said when asked if Olatoye should be replaced. “So at this moment I am not calling for her to resign. I think the issues that NYCHA faces are much bigger than one person. If she left tomorrow, the issues would still exist.”

But in a reference to Olatoye’s explanation for the lead inspection failure, Johnson was highly critical: “In the future it’s not good enough for her to say, ‘Sorry, I was briefed with bad information.’ That’s not good enough.”