seeing 'rad'

Tenants in Privately Managed NYCHA Homes Kept in Dark on Building Repairs

NYCHA resident Stephanie Rivers says her kitchen radiator has been flooding her apartment.
NYCHA resident Stephanie Rivers says her kitchen radiator has been flooding her apartment. Photo: Gabriel Sandoval/THE CITY

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At the Ocean Bay Apartments (Oceanside) in the Rockaways, tenants can see online how many repairs are pending, check on service outages and get a report card on how long it takes NYCHA to make fixes.

Just across Beach Channel Boulevard are the Ocean Bay Apartments (Bayside), where a private company called Wavecrest Management now runs things. The firm collects rent, responds to repair requests and can evict tenants for nonpayment of rent.

But if a resident wants to find out the status of essential building services or see how well Wavecrest is maintaining the complex, good luck.

“The new guys [Wavecrest] came in and gave us new ceilings, wood floors, new tubs, toilets and radiators. But while that was nice, we’ve had more heating issues than before,” said tenant Ashanti Bethea, who reports sweating at night and waking up freezing.

“Getting things fixed now is inconvenient, too,” Bethea said. “[NYCHA] was quicker about addressing issues, in my opinion.”

Whether NYCHA made repairs faster is now impossible to tell.

There’s no direct, online public accounting of how Wavecrest is maintaining Ocean Bay Bayside. The same goes for seven other developments NYCHA has turned over to private managers under a federal program called Rental Assistance Demonstration or RAD.

A Private Matter

NYCHA touts RAD is the key to its future, the best way to reverse years of managerial neglect and creeping decay that have rendered thousands of the authority’s 174,000 apartments unliveable.

The premise is simple: NYCHA brings in private developers to fix up public housing buildings with the help of government-supplied mortgages, then turns over management to the developer or a real estate management firm.

To date, around 5,100 apartments across the city have been converted to RAD, with Ocean Bay Bayside leading the way three years ago.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he intends to put 62,000 apartments — about one-third of NYCHA units — into RAD. So far, 15,000 have been approved by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development to enter the program.

But some tenant and protest groups have seized on RAD, calling it a cover story for privatizing public housing. NYCHA Chairperson Gregory Russ, a big supporter of RAD who used it widely as public housing chief in Minneapolis, has said that’s simply not true.

NYCHA Chairperson Gregory Russ
NYCHA Chairperson Gregory Russ Photo: Minneapolis Public Housing Authority

Russ emphasizes that under RAD, NYCHA retains ownership of the buildings through 99-year leases, and can intervene if private managers fail in their mission to provide safe and healthy apartments.

Tenants continue to pay no more than 30% of their income towards rent, and they’re guaranteed lease renewal and succession rights as long as they follow rules of conduct that apply to all public housing tenants.

From RAD to Red

Yet once a building falls under RAD, a tenant’s ability to see what’s going on in their development dissipates.

On NYCHA’s website, the public data available for public developments is gone for complexes converted to RAD — replaced by a statement in red: “Sorry Developments Portal is undergoing maintenance. Sorry for the inconvenience. Please check back later.”

Screenshots taken on Jan. 31 show work order information available for one NYCHA development, but not for the one across the street.
Screenshots taken on Jan. 31 show work order information available for one NYCHA development, but not for the one across the street. Photo: Will Welch/THE CITY

In addition to Ocean Bay Bayside, the void exists for Betances, Twin Parks West, Highbridge and Franklin, Baychester/Murphy in the Bronx and Hope Gardens, Palmetto Gardens and Bushwick II in Brooklyn.

At Ocean Bay Oceanside, tenants can see online that in December, for example, there were 570 open work orders. That was down from 704 in September but up from 367 in February.

The average number of days for a major repair to take place was 93 days in December — better than 103 days in November, but far worse than 55 days in May.

No such information exists for Ocean Bay Bayside, where THE CITY last week found tenants who for years were frustrated dealing with NYCHA now frustrated dealing with Wavecrest.

Stepanie Rivers said that shortly before Christmas she woke up to a flood, thanks to a broken kitchen radiator. She turned off the radiator and called Wavecrest to fix it.

She’s still waiting, and her kitchen is still chilly.

Rivers also cites brown water coming from the faucets — a problem that started after Superstorm Sandy struck in 2012. Sometimes she can see little dark specks in the bottom of her white coffee mug that are not coffee grounds.

And on Oct. 7, 2018, her allegedly brand new refrigerator died. She said Wavecrest didn’t deal with the problem until she confronted managers at a tenant meeting nearly a month later.

“I got on the mic and shared what was happening,” said Rivers. “I’ve never been the kind of resident to get up and yell, ‘Oh, you better fix this and do that.’ No. I use my words.”

Information Outage

Then there’s the issue of outages. While residents of buildings run by NYCHA get online updates on heat, hot water, gas and electric failures, RAD developments do not.

That means that at the RAD development, Baychester Houses in The Bronx, there’s no online information about any possible disruption of services.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Baychester Avenue, tenants in the Edenwald Houses at least know that the gas outage in one of the buildings there started on Dec. 18 and work is “in progress.”

In response to questions from THE CITY, NYCHA spokesperson Barbara Brancaccio said that under its RAD agreements, the authority turns over all property-related issues to its private sector partners.

In statement released through a spokesperson, Wavecrest CFO Susan Camerata said the company tracks work tickets and repair times “for internal purposes and accountability.” She added that tenants can check the status of their requests via phone, email or in person at the site office.

She said when a city housing inspector issues violations or a resident requests repairs, “a work ticket is created, the work is completed promptly and the resident signs off.”

Though several tenants interviewed by THE CITY said they were still awaiting services, she said, “We currently have all work tickets signed off by residents as completed, as well as official paperwork completed by third-party inspectors when appropriate.”

‘No Reason to Intervene’

The city Department of Housing Preservation & Development does not inspect NYCHA apartments unless ordered to do so by a court. With RAD, HPD will inspect an apartment if a tenant calls 311. But the citations are issued against the building manager — not NYCHA, the owner.

A review by THE CITY of HPD records in 20 of the Ocean Bay Bayside buildings found 69 open code violations as of Friday, including multiple citations for toxic mold and two apartments listed with severe vermin infestations.

The leaking radiator in Stephanie River's apartment.
The leaking radiator in Stephanie River’s apartment. Photo: Gabriel Sandoval/THE CITY

Some of these violations have been certified by HPD as fixed, while in some cases Wavecrest said the repairs have been completed and HPD has yet to re-inspect.

Still, eight of these citations date back to 2018 — including one apartment with a roach infestation, two with mold, one with a broken intercom and a unit cited for a busted fridge, roaches and non-functioning smoke and CO2 detectors.

Another 45 open violations are at least two months old, records show.

On Friday, an HPD spokesperson said Wavecrest had submitted paperwork stating these conditions have been eliminated, and the agency will re-inspect in the coming days.

And while several of the mold complaints remain open, Camerata said all mold remediation work has been completed.

She emphasized that Wavecrest staff “are mold remediation trained,” and that a licensed third-party mold abatement company treats and documents fixes.

Camerata also noted that she had “no record of a consistent issue with water quality” cited by tenants in interviews with THE CITY. She said when water towers are cleaned, “there is the standard sediment in pipes that is cleared out by running the faucet for a few minutes.”

Brancaccio said NYCHA requires building managers to submit monthly performance reports and can remove a manager “for certain bad acts or performance failures.”

“These contracts also affirm NYCHA’s ownership stake in the management entity and ensure the Authority’s rights to oversight, intervention and enforcement if the developers obligations are not met,” she wrote.

To date NYCHA has never taken any action against Wavecrest “as we are early in the program and there has been no reason to intervene,” Brancaccio said.

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