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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

NYC Ombudsman: Public Housing Tenants ‘Have Gone Through Hell’

Virginia Portella pull a cart load of groceries to her third floor apartment on Tuesday in the Red Hook Houses residential complex in Brooklyn, N.Y. Portella and some of her neighbors have been without use of elevators after losing electricity during superstorm Sandy. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

More than two weeks after Hurricane Sandy, 20,000 people who live in public housing are still without heat and hot water, and some still don’t have power.

Alisha Robinson lives on the 11th floor of one of those complexes and says she was originally stuck in her apartment after the storm hit.

“Our building did flood. There was water inside of the building, probably about about waist high. Until it receded, we were stuck in our apartment because I wasn’t walking through no water.”

Alisha has since left her apartment, and said she doesn’t think she should have to pay rent for the full month.

Unfortunately the situations there have gotten dirtier and less safe and less healthy over the course of two full weeks.
– Bill de Blasio, New York City Public Advocate

“For two weeks our building was unlivable, so I’m thinking that’s half a month that they should be giving, half a paycheck. I just feel that half time, half pay.”

But the New York City Housing Authority says tenants must pay their rent as normal, and that’s causing some controversy. Housing chief John Rhea said tenants will get a housing credit in January, calling it a “nice little Christmas present.”

Bill de Blasio, who holds the citywide elected position of New York City Public Advocate, is among the vocal critics of that comment and the housing authority’s policy.

“John I respect, but he’s made a huge mistake in framing it that way,” de Blasio said. “Folks have gone through hell. I mean they’ve been through over two weeks of literally substandard housing conditions and for some of these housing developments it will continue longer.”

De Blasio said he walked through a public housing development in Red Hook, Brooklyn, last weekend that has not had electricity for two weeks.

“Unfortunately the situations there have gotten dirtier and less safe and less healthy over the course of two full weeks,” he said. “People feel very insecure, of course, whenever there isn’t electricity in their stairwells at night. You’re talking about an unacceptable situation.”

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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