On Monday morning, La Keesha Taylor woke up to take a shower to find there was no hot water running in her bathroom. This is a typical occurrence at the Stanley Isaacs housing development at 93rd Street on the Upper East Side. Taylor already put in two tickets this month alone for NYCHA to fix the problems in the boiler room. She’s used to there being no hot water and to her neighbors talking about the mold growing in their homes. It’s a part of life at NYCHA housing.
Now, during the COVID-19 outbreak, no hot water for Taylor’s morning shower meant losing the few minutes of alone time she’s afforded as a single mother of two young boys who now depend on her not only as a caretaker, but also as an educator and entertainer.
“This has pushed back my entire morning as we resume remote learning and need to get back on schedule,” Taylor, 46, said Monday.
Taylor has lived at the Isaacs housing development all of her life. Her family was one of the first African American families to move into the building when the development was built in the 60s, she said. As she remembers it, Isaacs was a much different place back then. When she was growing up, she and her friends could sit in the hallway and talk or play hopscotch and kick the can in the parking lot. It was a community where everyone knew everyone. She remembers her family experiencing the usual problems of life, but she doesn’t remember NYCHA contributing to her family’s problems.
Now, in her role as a leader of the Holmes Isaacs Coalition, Taylor is part of a lawsuit against alleging unlivable conditions that NYCHA has failed to fix. The suit details NYCHA’s alleged failure to provide the basic services of heat and hot water, but it also claims that tenants are dealing with rodent and insect infestations. Taylor said tenants are suffering from mold. One of her neighbors told management that her oven would not heat above 250 degrees, and NYCHA offered to replace it with a two-burner hot plate. Taylor saved money and bought her neighbor a new stove on her own.
"Residents are Experiencing Anxiety"
These poor conditions at the development have become magnified and inescapable during the pandemic as tenants are confined to their homes.
“Residents are experiencing anxiety living in the development,” said Greg Morris, who runs the housing development’s community center and has built close connections with tenants like Taylor. “There’s an amount of desperation. There’s seniors who are sort of stuck between making choices between food and medicine and rent. The funds are getting low.”
Taylor elaborated on the specific issues that have made life more difficult during the pandemic. The elevators have never worked properly, even when she was a kid, but now there is one completely out of commission. In a 25-floor building with about 2,200 residents, keeping six feet a part from other tenants is not possible. Taylor said an elevator only has to make one stop for it to become overcrowded. She said there have been no signs that the elevator will be repaired, and that even when both are “in order” they still don’t work properly most of the time.
“There’s no opportunity for social distance,” Taylor said. “The only way to social distance is for people to stay in their house.”
Taylor said she is going to continue to take her kids outside though because they need the fresh air and opportunity for exercise.
It’s also unclear how many times a week the building is being cleaned, who is cleaning it and how thorough a job the workers are doing, Taylor said. It appears that NYCHA has hired outside contractors to clean the buildings, but the workers don’t have a uniform or identification of any kind to indicate that they’re hired cleaners. She said when the cleaners are at the building, she doesn’t see the cleaning being done with much care.
“When you walk by the staircase, it reeks of urine,” she said. “It’s obviously not being done. It’s haphazard. You can’t believe what you can’t see.”
The crowded elevators and poor sanitation has added stress to Taylor doing simple tasks such as taking garbage to the shoot or going downstairs to collect her mail.
All the while, Taylor said the way NYCHA responds to tenant complaints is unhelpful and unproductive. She said management recently pinned signs with information about changing rent policies in Cantonese, Spanish and Arabic, but the English copy was missing.
“I sent an email to tell them that it was gone,” she said. “I have no idea what this important form says. A week went by, and by then all of the forms were gone and none of them have been replaced. “People are staying in their homes. These should be posted on every single floor.”
She said the agency needs to be doing more to be getting information to every demographic in its buildings to ensure people’s safety.
But on top of all of this, Taylor thinks NYCHA should be doing more to ensure that tenants are not going hungry. Taylor has helped other tenants get food delivered from City Harvest, but she said the city needs to do better to make it available to people. She said every community center and NYCHA developments should have food delivered to them.
“We have people who are already in dire conditions because we live in NYCHA,” she said. “They’re killing us with the mold. They’re killing us with the non-repairs. And people can’t find food. This is a problem.”
“There’s no opportunity for social distance. The only way to social distance is for people to stay in their house.” LaKeesha Taylor