By Emily Drooby
The sound of the stove turning on is music to Silvia’s ears. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) resident, whose last name is not being disclosed for safety, went months without being able to cook for her family because of a building-wide gas outage.
“I thought it was only for a week or two weeks but then when I saw it was a month, and next month, and two months and almost four months with that problem,” she told Currents News.
To compensate for the lost stove, she was given a hot plate. Her priest and long-time housing advocate, Father Edward Mason, said that’s not enough.
“Which you really use to heat something up, make a cup of coffee, boil some water for soup, it’s not something you’re going to cook a meal on for a family of people, so it’s just terrible,” explained Father Mason, who’s also the administrator at Mary, Mother of the Church in Brooklyn.
The outage meant Silvia had to spend additional money she wouldn’t have normally had to spend, with expenses including a $150 cooker and premade meals.
“I was worried because it’s not easy to buy food, every time, every day, almost three times a day, because I have kids,” she explained.
Silvia is not alone. NYCHA is constantly making headlines for long utility outages. It’s a problem Father Mason sees often.
“My first thought a couple of years ago, the first time I saw this happen with a family, was they were actually asking to borrow money from me to pay for their food, buy their food and I said, ‘They should be paying less in rent,'” said Fr. Mason.
New York State Senator and Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris had the exact same idea.
“This would not be tolerated in a private residence,” he told Currents News. “The residents of NYCHA should be treated the same as everyone else in this situation.”
Inspired by recent gas outages in Astoria, Queens, he introduced legislation that would cut rent for NYCHA residents experiencing utility outages, dropping it by 10 percent during the outage in hopes of easing the financial pressure on families like Silvia’s.
“Why should they be asked to be paying their full obligations in rent when they’re not getting the services they’re paying for,” asked Senator Gianaris.
NYCHA is arguing this bill would hurt their ability to help.
In a statement sent to Currents News, they wrote:
“Restoring gas for private or public housing is a lengthy, multi-pronged process that involves numerous steps, including shutting off the gas, visiting the units for a scope of the work needed, making necessary repairs, investigating for asbestos, getting permit and inspection approval from our city partners and then coordinating with the utility company to safely turn the gas back on. Reducing or stopping rent payments would not speed up the process and would adversely affect NYCHA’s ability to make repairs, as it would decrease NYCHA’s day-to-day operating budget.”
Still, Senator Gianaris says he expects the bill to start making its way through the Senate and Assembly in January.