Heat Problems Persist in NYCHA during Recent Cold Snap
February brought record-setting cold temperatures last week, as low as 4 degrees. Combined with life-threatening wind chill, outdoor temperatures reached as low as minus 15 degrees. The extreme cold weather challenged New Yorkers to find ways to stay warm even as heat and hot water are not reliable under normal circumstances.
The New York City Housing Authority has had a history of providing inconsistent heat and hot water was made worse during the recent cold snap.
Most buildings in the Breevoort Houses had heat and no complaints from grateful tenants. One tenant named Michael said his particular building had sporadic heat. “Last week Friday and Saturday, the coldest days, yes the heat was on and off,” said Michael. “It was very cold. We had to put the oven on. I give the benefit of the doubt. The pipes may have been cold or frozen, so the heat didn’t come up.”
Tenants thought conditions would improve at the Linden Houses in Dec 2022 when C+C Apartment Management took over management via the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) conversion.
Ms. T., who had lived in Linden Houses for more than 20 years said some apartment lines get good heat while others, like hers, don’t. Worse, since she lives on an upper floor, when the wind blows it comes right into her apartment through the glass patio doors in the living room and bedroom. “The extreme cold last weekend made it worse,” said Ms. T. “I keep the oven on and use a space heater.”
New York City law requires landlords to provide heat between October 1 and May 31.
If the temperature is less than 55 degrees outside during the day, between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., your apartment’s inside temperature must be above 68 degrees. At night, between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., your apartment must be above 62 degrees, no matter the temperature outside.
Landlords must provide hot water of at least 120 degrees out of the tap all year round.
Suppose tenants feel unusually cold in the apartments. In that case, they can obtain an inexpensive thermometer from a local hardware or discount store to measure indoor and outside temps and the time of day.
If the indoor temperature is below the legal requirement, the first step is to contact the landlord, superintendent, or building management.
Tenants may be tempted to supplement the heat in their apartments. However, incorrect use of supplemental heat sources increases the risk of fire.
The NYC Department of Health offers several recommendations for staying warm during cold winter months.
Check on your neighbors, especially the elderly and disabled, to see if they need help. Try to get them to a warm place, like a relative’s home.
Stay with family or friends, or go to a NYC warming center. Call 311 for the location of a warming center near you.
Wear hats, gloves, and extra layers of dry clothing, even indoors. Keep your baby warm safely with extra layers of clothing, like wearable blankets. Always keep any blanket away from the baby’s face.
Eat hot food and avoid alcohol, as it lowers your body temperature even though you may feel warmer.
Call 911 if you see someone with signs of hypothermia.
According to the CDC, hypothermia is a medical emergency. Signs include shivering, feeling very tired, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, or drowsiness. Bright red, cold skin, and very low energy are signs of hypothermia in babies. Remove any wet clothing the person is wearing. Warm the center of the person’s body – chest, neck, head, and groin – using an electric blanket or skin-to-skin contact. Warm drinks can increase body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and not seem to have pulse or be breathing. In this case, handle the person gently, and perform CPR until emergency medical assistance arrives.
NYC Fire Department has Winter Fire Safety tips.
All apartments and homes should have at least one working smoke detector and a working carbon monoxide detector. Never use a gas stove or charcoal grill to heat your home. Kerosene heaters and propane space heaters are illegal in New York City. If a carbon monoxide detector sounds or you smell gas, open nearby windows, then go outside and call 911.
Space heaters should always be supervised, especially around children. They should be plugged directly into a wall outlet, not an extension cord. Space heaters should be unplugged, not just turned off, when leaving the room or going to sleep.
Flammable materials, such as furniture, curtains, and carpeting, should be at least three feet away from heat sources. Clothing should NEVER be placed on space heaters to dry.
Electric blankets should have the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Mark. All electric blankets more than ten years old should be replaced. Warm the bed with the electric blanket and turn it off before bed. Electric blankets also present a burn risk to those who cannot feel heat or are unable to react appropriately. Never place an electric blanket on babies, small children, or those with physical limitations that may prevent them from turning the control off or removing the blanket from their body.
by Mary Alice Miller