NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — As the coronavirus continues to spread, so do concerns for the most vulnerable, including those who live and work in New York City public housing.
CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis spoke to a New York City Housing Authority employee who didn’t want to be named or show his face.
“The housing is roach-infested, it’s rat-infested and now you got this virus going around,” he said.
While he’s afraid of losing his job, he’s also worried what will happen if he doesn’t expose what it’s been like working for NYCHA during the coronavirus pandemic.
“They’re not supplying us with the proper safety equipment,” he said. “My fear was getting sick but even a bigger fear is being asymptomatic, not knowing it and spreading it.”
A second NYCHA employee who spoke to CBS2 hasn’t been at work since he began experiencing symptoms. He eventually tested positive for COVID-19.
“I contracted this coronavirus from my job,” he said. “They didn’t properly give us any PPE and still had us going in apartments.”
He says NYCHA sent out an email on March 13, instructing staff to ask residents if they have symptoms before entering an apartment. If so, employees should only enter if the repair is an emergency and they should still keep a safe distance from anyone inside.
“I understand to a certain point it has to get done, but at what price?” the first worker added.
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Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents about 8,000 NYCHA employees, says the union met with NYCHA weeks ago.
“We asked for a plan of action and they have not met with the employees, they have not come up with a plan of action. NYCHA is unprepared for this disaster,” Floyd said.
“NYCHA employees have been reaching out to us on a daily basis,” added Carl Giles, housing division director of Teamsters Local 237. “The concerns that they have been reaching out has been about the proper PPE, guidance on how to do social distancing, just everything around their safety and their health.”
NYCHA refused to go on camera to answer CBS2’s questions, but said it just received tens of thousands of masks that would be distributed to staff.
The agency later tweeted out pictures showing the shipment, with more to come next week.
Thank you to @NYCHA staff for working on the distribution of nearly 100,000 masks that came in over the past two days. These masks are being distributed to all operations and development staff, as well as other departments with essential staff.😷 😷 😷 pic.twitter.com/pgksDw8e7n
— NYCHA (@NYCHA) April 8, 2020
Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Chair of the Committee on Public Housing, sent CBS2 the following statement:
“I have been fighting to ensure all NYCHA essential workers who are required to interact with the public have the proper protections they need. As well as making sure residents are too protected and living in clean environments. This has been quite the challenge for NYCHA, the City and the State of NY. I am very disappointed in the stories I’m hearing but was told there was a delivery of 50,000 masks to NYCHA yesterday, with another 75,000 to be delivered this week.
We have people dying in our communities and know in low income communities of color the story is a thousand times worse. We had six seniors die in one senior development on Friday. This pandemic is ripping through our city and I worry that we are not getting the resources needed to communities with real density issues.”
“They should have had this at the beginning because again, they’re on the front lines,” said LaKeesha Taylor, who lives in Holmes Towers. “We’re in the thick of this.”
Taylor is facing her own set of issues on the Upper East Side with her two sons.
“We had one elevator. You’re in a pandemic, how can you social distance when you only have one elevator?” she said.
“The fact that I’m a NYCHA tenant doesn’t negate the fact that I deserve proper heat, proper water, a proper elevator,” she added “Our buildings are crumbling around us, our buildings are already killing us, asthma, mold. Then, the virus is here you don’t have hot water, you’re elevators are not working, you live with mold, you can’t go out.”
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The issue hits close to home for City Council Member Ritchie Torres, who grew up in public housing, worried about his mother at Throggs Neck Houses.
“We know from the data COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. If NYCHA were a city, it would be the largest city of people of color in the United States, so NYCHA is hit the hardest,” Torres said.”Coronavirus spreads most easily in densely populated settings and theres no set of housing thats more densely populated than NYCHA.
“I find it irresponsible that the housing authority has been sending employees into the apartments of residents without PPE, that is putting both the tenants and employees at risk,” he added.
DeAngelis asked the workers she interviewed what results they’d like to see.
“For NYCHA to take responsibility for their employees, to protect their employees, have us work in a safe environment and do our job in a safe way, so we can come home safe to our families, friends and loved ones and protect them like we protect the residents we serve,” said the second employee.
A group of New York City lawmakers sent a letter to NYCHA’s chairman urging the agency to improve its response to the pandemic and specifically address residents’ concerns about proper cleaning and sanitation.
“Housing is leaving us totally in the dark,” the first employee told DeAngelis.
NYCHA workers and tenants hope shining a light will keep everyone protected and safe.