By VIVIAN YEEMARCH 23, 2014 (NEW YORK TIMES)
Thousands of New York City public housing residents faced an agonizing wait for heat and hot water to return after Hurricane Sandy flooded their buildings’ boilers in 2012. Even after officials rushed temporary boilers to New York in the weeks after the storm, service has remained unreliable through two winters.
But under a deal between federal and city agencies that was announced Sunday, all 110 public housing buildings that have been relying on temporary boilers to serve 8,862 apartments will be getting new boilers, with the process expected to begin within six months. Under the terms of the $100 million agreement, federal funds will be used to reimburse the city’s financially stretched public housing authority for the costs of the temporary boilers as well as the new ones.
“The hardship is still real,” Senator Charles E. Schumer, who shepherded the deal between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the New York City Housing Authority, said on Sunday at the Stanley M. Isaacs Houses, a public housing development on the Upper East Side.
The temporary boilers are “not up to snuff,” he added. “We’ve cut through the red tape and we’ve brought this situation now to a speedy end.”
The housing authority has been spending $3 million per month to rent the temporary boilers since the storm — in all, about $56 million at developments in the Rockaways, in Coney Island and on the Lower East Side. The borrowed boilers have each been doing the work of multiple permanent boilers, 60 of which suffered flood damage.
The installation process is slated to start within six months, Mr. Schumer said, but it is unclear when all the boilers will be replaced.
Announcing the deal alongside Mayor Bill de Blasio and the chairwoman of the housing authority, Shola Olatoye, Mr. Schumer said the agreement would improve on FEMA’s normal policy of repairing, not replacing, damaged infrastructure. The original boilers had been showing their advanced age even before the hurricane hit, he said, making replacements all the more necessary.
The new boilers, which will be paid for with funds from the federal aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims, will be more water-resistant and built at higher elevations to help protect them from floods, he said. They will also burn natural gas instead of oil.
Mr. de Blasio praised the senator for pushing the agreement forward, adding that as the city continues to rebuild, “we have to find a way to right some wrongs in the process,” including replacing the antiquated boilers.
Though the news is sure to please some residents, Mr. de Blasio, who has been fending off criticism from several directions lately, had a run-in with yet another group of protesters on Sunday: Outside the building waited several dozen Upper East Side residents who oppose the city’s plan to build a waste transfer station nearby.
As they tried to swarm the mayor, he and his aides beat a hasty retreat indoors, moving the news conference with them. Mr. de Blasio said that while he respected the protesters’ opinions, he wanted to focus on the boiler deal, a “very important moment for New York City.”