NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The city’s troubled public housing agency got a new boss Monday.
After just six hours on the job, new NYCHA head Gregory Russ walked into City Hall for his first meeting, pointing to the ornate building with what appeared to be the kind of wonder only a man moving from Minneapolis Public Housing — with 11,000 tenants — to New York City — with 400,0000 tenants — could muster.
“I hope it works out,” Russ said.
Tenants hope so, too, because for many, the pervasive problems — lead paint, mold, rats, elevators that don’t work, no heat or hot water — are soul-crushing.
CBS2 political reporter Marcia Kramer: “What are your first priorities?”
Russ: “Ah, my first priorities are to get to learn the organization, meet the people and make sure I understand the operation.”
Dressed casually with his new NYCHA ID draped around his neck, the $402,000-a-year boss of public housing offered few details. He readily told Kramer he came in at 7 a.m. and planned to do it every day.
As for the tough questions, Kramer says she got the brush off.
Kramer: “What do you think is the most daunting challenge?”
Russ: “Ah, pardon me, I just wanna…”
Tenants are all too willing to list all the “daunting challenges” they want him to fix.
“It’s been almost six months that we’ve been without a sink,” Jamie Garcia, who lives in Baruch Houses, said. “It’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable at all.”
“The elevators, the pipes that cause us to not have heat and hot water … the rats, a whole lot of rats. Roaches,” Fatime Burney said.
“The first thing he has to look at is the living quality that the elderly are having here,” Joselizo Hernandez said. “Hot water, sometimes can’t even take baths … heating issues.”
Fixing the boilers should be priority one, according to the Legal Aid Society, which just found that 90% of NYCHA apartments lost heat and hot water last winter. According to data obtained through a freedom of information request, 259 of NYCHA’s 326 developments had outages last winter.
Judith Goldiner, attorney in charge of Legal Aid’s civil law reform unit, said Russ should “make sure that you take care of the boilers and the boiler repair people. Be laser-focused on that because October is just around the corner and that’s when heat season starts.”
After an hour-long meeting at City Hall, Russ had just one word.
“Peace,” he said, flashing a peace sign.
NYCHA insists it’s been focused “night and day” to fix heat and hot water issues, saying response time has decreased. They say 70,000 fewer residents lost heat last winter. The Legal Aid Society is suing NYCHA to provide rent rebates for tenants if their heat or hot water goes out.