2019-03-13 / Front Page

HUD’s Patton Meets Queensbridge Residents

By Thomas Cogan

At right, HUD Regional Director Lynne Patton speaks to Queensbridge residents about proposed NYCHA repairs. At left, Queensbridge Tenants Association President April Simpson. At right, HUD Regional Director Lynne Patton speaks to Queensbridge residents about proposed NYCHA repairs. At left, Queensbridge Tenants Association President April Simpson. One night last week at the Jacob A. Riis Center in Queensbridge Houses, 10-25 40th Ave., April Simpson, president of the Queensbridge tenants’ association, introduced Housing and Urban Development Regional Director Lynne Patton, who received faint applause.  Simpson had welcomed Patton to her apartment for a week, as a part of Patton’s publicized stay at two New York City Housing Authority projects, the other, earlier one being the Frederick Douglass Houses in upper Manhattan.  Simpson said she got what she called “a lot of grief” from friends and other neighbors for extending hospitality to an appointee of President Trump, but she called Patton a “lovely” woman who was “tireless” in her work while at Queensbridge.

Patton said she has been on the job a year and a half and the trouble she had seen lately at public housing in Manhattan and Queens was not anything new to her.  She said NYCHA was rife with bad or no service, and officials who lied and deceived, doing no significant work but claiming they did, and faithfully accepting each paycheck.  HUD funded NYCHA with $30 million a week, which was spent on unfulfilled work orders and those irresponsible officials’ paychecks but seldom for real repairs, she said.  

She could arrive at an appointment to find the surroundings in clean order but infer from the Photos Normandeau NewswirePhotos Normandeau Newswire bad conditions she’d also seen that nothing was done any time they were sure that no HUD official or inspector would be paying a visit. She was gratified by the improvements for which she could claim credit, such as one at Douglass Houses where she got complete repairs on a shower a resident told her had been broken for two years while he was continually unable to get anyone in to fix it; but one-off victories still left countless maintenance jobs undone, no matter how often tenants requested them.

It might be heartening to hear how such a deplorable situation as the broken shower came to the attention of a sympathetic official and was promptly fixed through a special project, but NYCHA’S many problems will not be surmounted until the system of communications between management and tenants is made viable regarding maintenance of aging infrastructure, which in Queensbridge’s case is sometimes decrepit.  

Simpson said she might have a complaint about cracked tiles in her bedroom that she can’t get repaired because her order for it is ignored or mislaid, but she found out when accompanying Patton on her inspection tours that some of her neighbors’ living conditions were so appalling they left her shaken.  “I have met people who pay $1,500-2,000 a month to live in squalor,” she said.  

Patton was indignant about the widespread impression that public housing tenants are a social burden, assumed by some to be living where they live for free.  They are not, she said, since they pay taxes and rent (and sometimes a lot of it, if Simpson’s reference is accurate).

During a few moments when a woman spoke to the room in Spanish, several residents stood behind her and held up professional-looking photographs of bad conditions that can be found inside the Queensbridge buildings:  flooded floors, broken walls and much that appears to be crumbling.  Patton observed it with everyone else and then took the microphone to propose how huge repair projects could be started.  

She began by saying that hundreds of caretakers must be hired to look after NYCHA’s buildings and grounds.  Repair documents have to be monitored to check such malfeasances as closing out work tickets before repair jobs have been completed, or in some cases even before they have been opened.

A woman in the audience said the most crucial problem is plumbing.  Maintenance workers have said that some of the pipes have so deteriorated they just fall apart when they are handled—which should not be surprising, since many of them probably have been in use in the Queensbridge plumbing system since the houses were opened in 1939.

While there were complaints about neglect of service, one woman described a misapplication of it.  She said that workmen pounded on her door at 2:00 one morning and told her they had to break through one of her walls to get at some exterior section that needed maintenance.  They needed to make similar maneuvers through some neighboring tenants’ walls also.  “I was scared to death,” she said, and so perhaps were others on her floor enduring these repair raids.

Another woman wanted to know more about some of the contractors awarded government money.  She said that when their hired hands show up they are often clueless about how to perform their assigned tasks.  She asked if tenants could get some information on them, regarding their records, their presumed areas of expertise and if they ever have had legal action brought against them.  

Complaints probably could have gone on for hours, but the meeting was sensibly time-limited.  Repairs were to proceed no later than two days hence, when Queensbridge North would be treated to a “maintenance blitz” lasting from morning till night.
The promise has been made to continue them through all parts of Queensbridge and hold a meeting Tuesday, May 21, to assess the progress that they hope to have made by then.  
HUD Regional Director Lynne Patton said she’ll be sure to attend.  She said she expects to be judged on what she has done, then and even later.

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