UNPACKAGING A LACK OF SERVICE:
UPS DELIVERS TO PUBLIC HOUSING

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Life just got a little easier for some residents of public housing on Staten Island. That’s because United Parcel Service (UPS) last Monday agreed to deliver packages into the lobbies of two housing complexes, instead of following their current procedure of parking somewhere outside the development during set hours, necessitating that tenants come to UPS trucks to get their packages.

After residents began complaining over the summer and found support from local Councilmember Michael McMahon, who brokered a meeting between UPS, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD, UPS implemented the change in procedure.

The no-entry policy had been in place for more than a decade, and the change applies only to the West Brighton and Richmond Terrace Houses because UPS decided adequate safety precautions had been taken. Specifically, those housing projects have a Video Interactive Patrol Enhanced Response (VIPER) television surveillance unit in place, which is overseen by the NYPD.

However, the old policy will still apply to three other Staten Island complexes: Mariner’s Harbor Houses, Park Hill Houses, and Stapleton Houses.

Stapleton Houses is the Island’s largest NYCHA housing project, and has been a security concern because although it does have a VIPER system, it also has a faulty intercom and an outdated apartment directory. McMahon press secretary Kristen Simpson-Zak said McMahon’s office received a commitment from NYCHA at the meeting to fix these problems, and her office is working to obtain financing to install a closed-caption television device for Mariner’s Harbor Houses. Park Hill Houses is a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development property not subject to NYCHA oversight.

UPS has recently come under growing pressure and criticism for the policy, finding itself accused of discrimination. “The bottom line is that I don’t want to see my constituents treated differently because of where they live, whether it be in regards to municipal or private services,” McMahon said in a press release.

UPS spokesman Norman Black took issue with that, saying, “We developed this policy over time. We don’t make decisions like that lightly and change normal procedure very rarely.”

“But after five different violent assaults on five different drivers” occurring between 1985 and around 1996, Black said, “hard experience has lead us to this point.” The assaults included a female driver being beaten with a stick and urinated on, and a driver being beaten, stripped, tied up and left on the roof of a building while his truck was stolen and burned with all the parcels inside.

Black vehemently denied that race or “a neighborhood not looking nice” was behind UPS’s practices, and reported that the company had implemented similar policies elsewhere. “This is certainly in other cities—including New York City, where we’ve had to take precautions of one sort or another to ensure the safety of our drivers … which have been tailored to a specific situation and building.”

Edward Williams, president of New York city-based Everywhere and Now Public Housing Residents Organizing Nationally Together (ENPHRONT), said the UPS policy didn’t surprise him. “This is an ongoing situation, a tremendously unfair situation.” A longtime resident of public housing in Far Rockaway, Queens, Williams said this occurs “quite frequently, and it’s not just UPS.”

He speculated about 90 percent of public housing residents “do not receive the service,” whether it’s UPS or FedEx. “This is a common practice.” If someone says otherwise, Williams warned, “they are not telling the truth.”

The practice is “indicative of a perception that businesses and government, to an extent, [have about] public housing and follows who lives in there,” Williams added. “We suffer from this myth [and it keeps us from getting] equitable services.” He noted poor elevator maintenance and widespread rodent problems as further examples of how public housing tenants across the country receive sub-par services in general.

A spokesman for FedEx reported they “do deliver there to these … particular locations … we give the carriers the decision-making regarding safety.” And Tom Gaynor, public affairs spokesman for the NY Metro Area of the Unites States Postal Service pointed out that, unlike the USPS, providers such as UPS and FedEx “do not deliver to everyone” anyway. “We go to every delivery address in the country…it’s our mandate to provide universal service.” Gaynor said the USPS has no record of assaults against their carriers on Staten Island.

Both Williams of ENPHRONT and Black of UPS agreed on a key point: that NYCHA management itself played a fundamental role in how the situation has evolved. NYCHA did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the matter.

Black said, “It’s been particularly difficult because there’s been no assistance provided by the [various] housing system managers. As in the case of the five [Staten Island] complexes, they adamantly refused to accept packages, eliminating our normal option.”

Williams went further, “The onus falls on NYCHA. They have an obligation as landlords to do what landlords are supposed to do. If the impediment is crime … they should have the obligation to develop whatever is necessary” to ensure that tenants receive the same services as other city residents.

But Simpson-Zak, from McMahon’s office, says it’s the responsibility of UPS “to tailor their policies to meet their customers’ needs, not the other way around,” she said.

-Jillian Jonas