It’s Freezing!

Heat Woes at Cooper Park Houses

At Cooper Park Houses’ heat meeting with tenants and NYCHA the room was so cold coats were kept on. (l to r) Debra Benders, president of the Cooper Park Houses Residents Council; Geraldine Lawrence, treasurer of the Cooper Park Houses Residents Council, and Karen Leader, Cooper Park Houses Residents Council. INSET: Karen Leader in her apartment when there were heat issues in November 2021. Photo Credit: Lori Ann Doyon

“[The heat] comes on then goes off.  The risers are hot, sometimes the radiators aren’t hot,” said Debra Benders, president of the Cooper Park Houses Residents Council.  The heat was also a problem when the weather turned cold in November 2021.  According to Benders, the situation might be worse this year.

There has been a heat issue ever since NYCHA contracted GSH Group to maintain this service at Cooper Park Houses, Benders reports.  She explains that when NYCHA was in charge of maintenance the problems were corrected more quickly, but now they have to submit complaints to NYCHA and then NYCHA communicates them to GSH, so it takes longer to solve the problem, if it even gets solved.  She states the residents cannot directly speak to GSH.  Benders said she reached out to NYCHA this fall, in plenty of time before it started getting cold, to make sure the system would provide enough heat when needed.

Cooper Park Houses have temperature monitors, but an issue is that these aren’t on every floor.  NYCHA’s building management stated sensors are in 30% of the units.  Benders conveyed that the heat is also not a consistent temperature throughout each building.  A floor with monitors may be receiving enough heat, or even too much heat; whereas another floor that doesn’t have a monitor is too cold. 

Benders also reported that once NYCHA receives a complaint, they come to check the heat by waving an instant-read meat thermometer around in the air.  She adds the timing of their visits — sometimes it’s around meal times, during or after the tenant has been cooking so heat from the oven or stove has supplemented the heat — can give a false reading.  Like most systems, the heat shuts off when the monitored environment reaches a certain temperature.  She wishes NYCHA would visit during the instances when the heat is off.  This is when the interior temperature drops inside the units, and the colder units get even colder.  

“I’m afraid someone will get a space heater and that could start a fire.  Or that someone will get sick from the cold, especially the seniors who live here,” said Benders.  She recalled an account of the death of a tenant last year and that the lack of heat may have been a contributing factor.  She said there was no way to prove that, but when they entered the tenant’s apartment it was very cold. 

Karen Leader, one of the residents who has a cold apartment, has been keeping a list of the dates, times, outside temperature, if the heat is on or off, and the service request # when she calls in a ticket.  Her first entry is October 18, 2022 at 7 p.m. when the outside temperature was 54F.  She noted the heat didn’t come on all day, and she called to make a service request ticket.  She is making entries most every day and often there are several entries per day.  She also notes what heating elements (risers or radiators) are on or off and when maintenance has visited.  On October 28, at 6:10 a.m. she noted the heat was off and it was 46F outside.  She documented that the lack of heat continued through 9 a.m.   She made a complaint, shortly afterwards the heat came on so she withdrew the complaint, but the heat went off moments after she cancelled the complaint.  When there was no heat at 10 p.m. she submitted another complaint ticket.  Several times her list notes the heat isn’t on in the early morning.  November 16, 18, and 19 at 4 a.m., 4:52 a.m., and 4:23 a.m. (respectively) there was no heat and the outside temperature was 42F, 38F, and 35F (respectively).  An entry on December 11, stated, “Why is it that the outside temperature is 37F and the house thermometer reads 77F, and it is freezing in my apartment?  The temp is reading at a degree that according to your sensors should shut the heat off, but it’s still on, and thank God because it is freezing in my apartment.”

In mid-December, Pastor Philip Waldvogel of Williamsburgh Pentecostal Church (674 Metropolitan Avenue) brought 30 blankets for Debra Benders to distribute.  She gave them to senior residents who weren’t getting enough heat.

On December 21, a meeting with residents and NYCHA was held at the Cooper Park Community Center to discuss the heating issue and how to fix it.  The gym where the meeting was held was cold, somewhere in the mid-50 degrees F would be my estimate.  Everyone but one kept their coats on, and the one who took his coat off was wearing a sweatshirt.  Several tenants spoke of how cold it was in the room.  NYCHA representatives that manage heat and other building operations were present to listen to the tenants, and they also commented on how cold it was in the gym.  They explained that they would be making changes that night, and the tenants should feel the change later that night.  They communicated that they understand some apartments are getting too much heat, while many are not getting enough heat.  To address this, they will adjust the heat shut off temperature to 76F (an increase of two degrees) in areas that have reported not enough heat.  They reassured the tenants, that even though a two-degree increase didn’t sound like much, it will provide a noticeable improvement.  They also encouraged the tenants to keep submitting tickets when there is something to be fixed.  The more tickets they get, the more urgency is placed on the complaint.

In the meantime, Karen Leader will continue adding to her record of the heat in her apartment, until she determines the heat is consistent enough that the problem is resolved.

As of this writing, December 27, 2022, Benders stated, “Since the meeting and after having additional conversations with NYCHA staff the heat situation is much better. I asked them to turn the heat up and they have.  I will continue to call them if issues arise.”  This is happy news as NYC experienced colder than usual temperatures with below freezing windchill and highs in the teens in the days leading up to and through Christmas.  December 27 is the first day in nearly a week the temperature reached above 32F.

Author: Lori Ann Doyon

Managing editor, head writer, and lead photographer of Greenline | North Brooklyn News since October 2014. Resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn since 1990.

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