NYCHA work orders soar amid COVID-19 and new tracking system

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Robert Malone fills out four repair tickets every month for his studio apartment at NYCHA’s Brownstones — buckling walls, a rotted window frame, cracks in the ceiling, a crumbling subfloor in the kitchen.

His requests go into a pile of open work orders that swelled 40 percent last year, pushed to a record high that tenants and the Housing Authority pin on COVID-19 and a new system for tracking lead paint and mold removal.

The total at the end of December stood at 483,275, up from 344,958 in 2019, NYCHA figures show. The number of days maintenance crews took to complete repairs skyrocketed as well, to 225 from 134 the year before.

Residents blame the backlog on the coronavirus. NYCHA brass acknowledge the health crisis has been a drag on repairs, but claim point the fault mostly lies with the new repair tracking system.

Not only has the disease laid up nearly 850 of NYCHA’s 9,000 essential employees over the past 12 months, but tenants have refused to open their doors for fear of being infected.

At the Brownstones, tenant association president Cynthia Tibbs is beside herself. Roughly 100 residents have been without cooking gas for five months after ConEd had to shut off a trunkline to stop a leak — and yet more than a few still won’t let contractors inside.

“COVID is making my life a living hell,” said Tibbs, who received 16 voicemails in a single day from frantic tenants. “I’m dealing with mass hysteria — either they’re worried about catching the virus from the workers or going out for the 10 hours it takes to run pipe and remove the asbestos.”

NYCHA, like all city agencies, has felt the weight of the outbreak — from sick staffers to scared residents to emergency-only fixes, CEO Greg Russ told The Post.

NYCHA head Greg Russ arriving at City hall for meetings.
NYCHA CEO Greg Russ said COVID-19 has affected the city agency.
William Farrington

“When the pandemic first hit,” he said, “everyone stepped back.”

But Russ attributes the biggest chunk of the work orders to NYCHA’s revamped work order process, put in place to comply with a 2019 federal agreement for removing lead paint and mold.

Now, the agency generates a work order for each step of a job. For example, not only does scraping off lead paint get a ticket, so does wiping up the dust later and every other phase.  

“We have many work orders now and that’s actually helpful,” he said. “It lets us track our work to make sure we’re doing things right.”

The pandemic and the tracking system notwithstanding, NYCHA will always have a long fix-it list unless the city starts replacing the older developments. Today, 175 out of the agency’s 302 developments are at least 50 years old.

Robert Malone in front of 40 West 91st Street.
Robert Malone in front of 40 West 91st Street.
J.C.Rice

“If you look at some of the work orders we’re doing, we wouldn’t have those orders if we had the capital investments,” Russ told The Post, estimating New York would need $40 billion to build NYCHA’s 175,000 apartments.

With all the repairs his place needs, Malone just wants to move.

“I hope I can get a transfer,” he told The Post, “because this apartment definitely isn’t doing anything for me.”

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