“They knew it was going to rain Friday,” said Cynthia Tibbs, the tenant association president at NYCHA’s West Side Urban Redevelopment (WSUR) brownstones, where ceilings in three apartments collapsed following the heavy downpour. “This is a NYCHA problem where you don’t make sure your workers have all drains cleared and all leaves out of gutters.”
Rosemary Waldron, a tenant at the West Side Urban Redevelopment (WSUR) brownstones, woke up to the sound of tapping at her studio apartment on Friday. “Lady, there’s water at your door,” a neighbor warned her.
One block over, three tenants would see their ceilings partially collapse that day. And by Monday morning, Cynthia Tibbs, the tenant association president at WSUR—a unique cluster of 36 brownstones owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—was watching neighbors’ furniture get loaded onto a garbage truck for disposal.
Residents at the apartments between West 89th and West 93rd streets say some of the issues they faced during Friday’s extreme rainfall—the heaviest the city has seen in two years—could have been avoided.
Clogged gutters and drains, tenants say, caused ceiling leaks and flood damage. “Proper protocols would have stopped all this,” Tibbs said. “I don’t care if you take a coat hanger or what, pop the drain up, let the water down.”
Waldron said she submitted a ticket in August for the drain in front of her building to be unclogged. It’s unclear if or when that ticket was closed, but she said workers came to clear the drain, which is hidden under metal trash bins, on Sunday—two days after the deluge.
When the storm landed on Friday, her building’s entryway, with a stoop on 91st Street, was filled with rainwater, resembling a pool. To stop it from seeping into her apartment in prior storms, Waldron would put towels in front of her door. This time she had help.
“What saved me was a new neighbor who [swept] out the water from my door to outside,” Waldron said. “He swept for an hour and a half before [NYCHA staff] came along.” The drain was unclogged by Sunday, she added.
Another seven-unit brownstone at nearby 42 West 90th St. has a sloped roof. On Friday morning, Tibbs said, the walls were “wet to the touch.” Inside, one tenant on the top floor had a “gigantic bubble” hanging from her ceiling, according to Tibbs. The next day, the ceiling fell.
“Imagine waking up to a loud thud and your ceiling is on the floor,” Tibbs said. Crumpled bits of drywall scattered. Within the hour, two other apartments below had partially collapsed ceilings, according to photographs shared with Tibbs. City Limits was unable to reach the tenants for comment.
By Saturday afternoon, a cleanup crew arrived at the properties to get the drywall off the floor and apply plywood in the interim.The ceilings, Tibbs was told, need to be dry before they can be repaired.
In a statement, a NYCHA spokesperson said that the authority responded to flooding issues across the city stemming from Friday’s rainfall.
“NYCHA has worked tirelessly alongside its city partners to abate flooding conditions where they existed at developments across the portfolio during and in the immediate aftermath of the storm,” a NYCHA spokesman wrote in a statement. “At this time, we are continuing to address the resulting conditions.”
But tenants say the challenges they face are systemic. At a recent City Council meeting, NYCHA said a decrease in maintenance workers makes it harder to complete outstanding tasks.
In June, NYCHA reported 604,645 open work orders—for jobs such as painting, plastering and carpentry. The cost of these work orders, or “tickets,” is factored into the estimated $78.3 billion NYCHA says it needs to complete repairs over the next 20 years.
Tibbs said she and her neighbors have established “really good communication” with [NYCHA] management.
“However, Friday was overwhelming,” Tibbs said. “During emergency preparedness, all of this should have been handled two days before. They knew it was going to rain Friday. So this is not a mayor problem. This is not a City Council problem. This is a NYCHA problem where you don’t make sure your workers have all drains cleared and all leaves out of gutters.”
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