NYC Considers Turning Empty Public Housing Apartments into Boiler Rooms

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As the New York City Housing Authority recovers from Sandy, it has been considering moving the boilers that heat its buildings out of basements and into vacant apartments where they will face less risk of flooding, according to people involved in discussions with officials. 

After Sandy hit on October 29th, tens of thousands of public housing residents went weeks without power, heat or hot water. The storm surge blew out basement walls and filled boiler rooms up to the ceiling. On the Lower East Side, tenants lugged water from fire hydrants. From Red Hook to the Rockaways, ovens were being used as heaters. Some 26 public housing developments with 45,000 residents are located in Zone A—the area considered most vulnerable to storm surges. But the flooding went beyond that.

City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, the chairwoman of the Council's committee on public housing, said officials have told her in meetings they are thinking about using apartments on low floors to house boilers.

"It behooves them to start looking at this," she said, "because they have to replace some of these boilers now, so it doesn't make sense to replace them in their current location, and in less than a year from now we may end up having this problem again."

The idea is controversial because in some cases, tenants may have to be relocated to make room for the boilers. But some residents are nonetheless open to the idea.

Wally Bazemore has lived at the Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn for 55 years and is part of a tenant group called the Red Hook Coalition for Social Justice. Right now, several buildings in the development are being heated by temporary mobile boilers. He said, during a recent tenant meeting, one public housing official mentioned using apartments as boiler rooms. Bazemore lives on the first floor with his ill and disabled 97 year old mother and said it's important for them to be on a low floor especially when elevators are not working. But he did not dismiss the idea of giving up his apartment to make room for a boiler.

"They're going to have consider alot of stuff," Bazemore said.

The Housing Authority would not confirm that it is considering using of apartments as boiler rooms. A knowledgeable city official said building a separate utility plant at each complex where boilers could be placed on the second floor was also a possibility.

The Housing Authority estimates its losses from Sandy at $700 million, but it's unclear how much it will receive from the federal government. and what repairs it will be able to afford.