That’s cold: Heat, hot water out at Kingston public housing complex

From left, bundled up Monday at Rondout Gardens: Alexandra Wheeler, Michelle Lynd and Cassandra Burke. (Photo by Jesse J. Smith)

Dozens of residents of a downtown public housing complex endured a frigid night without heat or hot water after, some say, Kingston Housing Authority officials failed to respond to complaints about erratic service.

Residents of Building Q in the Rondout Gardens complex say that the problems began Friday when hot water in the building stopped working. Building Q resident and tenants’ council treasurer Cassandra Burke said that KHA maintenance staff responded to the building on Saturday, but were unable to resolve the issue and took no further action until Sunday. That’s when a plumbing company excavated a pipe believed to be the source of the trouble, then left without doing further work.

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That night, Burke said, the heat stopped working. As temperatures dipped into single digits, Burke said, residents tried without success to reach Rondout Gardens maintenance staff, the KHA maintenance supervisor and KHA Executive Director Dan Mills.

“There was zero communication from anybody,” said Burke.

Alderman Steve Schabot (D-Ward 8) said that he reached out to Kingston Fire Department officials late Sunday night after getting word of the situation. In response the department dispatched firefighters, who went door to door checking on residents. After determining that no one was in imminent danger, the firefighters left and residents settled in for an uncomfortably chilly night. Residents of the six-unit building, including 14 children, slept on kitchen and living rooms floors where there was still some heat circulating. Others relied on space heaters or ovens to provide warmth.

“My kids tossed and turned all night because they were cold,” said Building Q resident Alexandra Wheeler. “And that was after I let them sleep together to stay warm.”

Nor were the problems confined to Building Q.  Fifth-three-year-old Tammy Brown in Building P said that she spent Sunday night sleeping at a kitchen table while her two grandchildren slept on the living room floor after the heat stopped working in the upper-story bedrooms. In other units, residents reported sleeping in kitchens and living rooms, leaving ovens on for heat or relying on space heaters.

The Kingston Housing Authority office was closed Tuesday, Dec. 20 for a holiday party. (Photo by Jesse J. Smith)

On Monday afternoon Joe Safford, assistant director of the Fire Department’s Building and Safety Division, said he learned of the issue earlier in the day and had inspected the building’s boiler alongside plumber Carl Bell, who is doing the repair work. Safford said that the problem stemmed from a crack in a two-inch pipe leading from a boiler to a network of pipes that forces heated water into radiator pipes. The resulting pressure loss, Safford said, resulted in a lack of circulation of hot water, especially on upper stories. Safford added that hot water for taps was provided by a separate system and that hot water had been working in a unit visited by inspectors Monday morning. Safford said Bell’s plumbers had already patched the crack in the heat pipe and expected to complete the repair on Tuesday.

But resident Cassandra Burke said the heat outage had pointed to a larger issue — a lack of communication between Housing authority officials and tenants. Burke said, aside from advising residents that they could warm up in the complex’s community room and shower in a maintenance building, that there had been no word from KHA officials about the source of the problem or a timeline for repair.

“They don’t think they have to accountable to us because we’re low-income tenants,” said Burke. “I want to remedy that.”

KHA headquarters was closed for a holiday party this afternoon. A message left for Mills later in the day was not returned.

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