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Constantinides on NYCHA Astoria Houses Ongoing Gas Outage

The National Herald

New York City Council Member Costa Constantinides at a recent event with members of the Astoria Houses community. (Photo: Council Member Constantinides' office)

ASTORIA – New York City Council Member Constantinides wrote to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) regarding the ongoing gas outage at the Astoria Houses. The entire 48-unit 1-04 Astoria Boulevard remains without cooking gas, almost a month after a leak was detected, and residents have said they have gotten few updates from the Authority. In the letter, dated October 21 and addressed to NYCHA Chair Gregory Russ, the Council Member asks that these residents have the ability to cook by the holidays as well as access to all the resources they deserve.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Chair Russ,

This letter is to express my deep frustration that some NYCHA Astoria Houses residents have now gone a month without cooking gas. While this would have been a real problem even in normal times, this is especially problematic in the worst pandemic in 100 years. My ask is that NYCHA fast-track the replacement of this gas line to ensure it’s completely done before the holidays and provide relief to the impacted tenants.

I realize what my office requests is a large feat. To recap, an inspector found a gas leak on the third and fourth floors of 1-04 Astoria Boulevard on Sept. 22. I appreciate NYCHA’s fast response to shut the gas off before anyone was hurt. We have seen the dangers of an unchecked leak in Harlem and on the Lower East Side. I’m grateful your staff was able to prevent a catastrophe in Astoria. But this shut down has real-life ramifications for those who live in the building’s 48 units. The Astoria Houses already sit in a food desert, which only last year saw its first new grocery store open in decades. Older residents often lack access to hot meals, relying on a senior center we’ve struggled to save. The pandemic made access to fresh, nutritious food even worse by the spread of COVID-19, but I am grateful for the Resident Association and Urban Upbound for its work to fill the gap.

Indeed, this virus calls for bold action whenever an issue arises. I find it troubling that NYCHA expects the cooking gas to be out for up to 78 days from the outage. That puts restoration at the second week of December, almost two weeks past Thanksgiving. Holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, when we celebrate the good and move past the bad of another year. The meals we cook represent family values, passed down from generation to generation, to tell the story of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. Even though we cannot have large family gatherings, Astoria Houses residents deserve to prepare their home-cooked traditions. To sacrifice that is to let this virus win.

NYCHA must act swiftly to guarantee the gas is restored before the holidays. I won’t sugar-coat this or pretend replacing a gas line is not an easy task (nor should it be given the dangers of a rushed job). It can take the better part of a year to properly restore gas in private, upscale Manhattan buildings. Government should not wait that long, however, as it’s our duty to be better than the market. During this pandemic we built hospitals practically overnight. There is no reason we cannot make sure four dozen apartments can cook Thanksgiving dinner.

In the meantime, I would like to echo State Senator Michael Gianaris’ request you prorate the rent for those impacted. Any decent landlord knows they have a responsibility to deliver services to the tenant, and eat some costs when they cannot. About 40% of NYCHA residents already use a large portion of their Social Security, veterans’ benefits or other public assistance to pay rent. They deserve to get what they’re paying for.

Looking ahead in the long term, NYCHA should also begin phasing out this infrastructure entirely. Earlier this month, your office released a whitepaper showing how NYCHA can comply with the Climate Mobilization Act. This paper goes on to describe how costly and disruptive repairing gas cooking lines can be, noting that the agency is projecting to spend around $145 million on gas riser replacement projects over the next several years. If it can be done safely and effectively, this may be an opportunity to phase out the gas stoves entirely and replace them with induction ranges. By doing so, we can make the Astoria Houses more sustainable as well as more resilient.

My office is ready to do whatever necessary to get this work done. We will happily bring agencies together, inform residents of the latest development, or anything else within our power. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment that requires the full attention of NYCHA, my office, and all stakeholders. Restoring gas to the Astoria Houses will no doubt be a long project, but we ask you to commit that it will take no longer than what is safely necessary. I think you in advance for any actions NYCHA can take here.

Sincerely,

Costa Constantinides

Council Member 22nd District

CC: Mayor Bill de Blasio; Claudia Coger, President of the Astoria Houses Residents Association; Melanie La Rocca, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Buildings.