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CEO Greg Russ on NYCHA response to COVID-19

Posted at 7:15 PM, Mar 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-25 19:15:50-04

NEW YORK — Fredo Rivera has lived at the Wycoff Gardens in Boerum Hill for over 20 years and says families who live in his NYCHA development are on edge about the coronavirus.

“No one knows how they will fix it. How it will go away. I’m worried about it,” said Rivera.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams visited Rivera’s development Wednesday afternoon, handing out masks. Adams admits masks are not enough to protect the 400,000 residents living in public housing right now. He’s worried that nearly a quarter of NCYHA residents are 62 or older, a perfect storm for the virus to spread.

“Remember this virus hits those with pre-existing conditions, diabetes, respiratory issues, and this is ground zero for respiratory issues. We can all do a better job,” said Adams. He hopes to send a bigger message to families that the city cares.

PIX11 News spoke to NYCHA CEO Greg Russ wednesday. Russ says NYCHA is working overtime to make sure buildings are safe. Russ tells us there is an extensive plan in place to clean the 2,200 plus public housing buildings across the city.

“We think we have 40 individuals who may have been impacted in some way. They had to go home, they are out of work, or they stepped away from the job,” said Russ.

He said NYCHA buildings, including all property management office, are sanitized three days per week, and senior buildings five days per week. The cleanings are concentrated in high-touch, high-traffic areas (elevator panels and buttons; mailboxes; lobby, stair halls and common area doors; trash chute doors; and other common areas). Russ says NYCHA has suspended resident evictions for as long as the city is under a state of emergency.

As per NYCHA’s existing rent hardship policy, residents can file an interim re-certification to decrease their rent due to decreased income.

Here is NYCHA's full response to the pandemic.

Cleaning:

  • Through outside vendors and property maintenance staff, NYCHA buildings, including all property management office, are sanitized 3 days per week, and senior buildings 5 days per week.
  • NYCHA’s daily sanitizing efforts are concentrated in high-touch, high-traffic areas - elevator panels and buttons; mailboxes; lobby, stair halls and common area doors; trash chute doors; and other common areas - throughout our 2,200 buildings.
  • Our caretakers continue to perform grounds maintenance, including waste removal.
  • NYCHA is receiving ongoing guidance from DOHMH regarding sanitizing protocols and remains vigilant about focusing on frequently touched areas throughout all of our developments.
  • NYCHA has partnered with Eastco, a federally-approved contractor, to disinfect 71 senior buildings 5x per week.
  • Eastco uses two key disinfecting agents: 1) A hospital-grade disinfecting spray, Smart Touch; and 2) An anti-microbial film, BIOPROTECT.
  • Smart Touch is a hospital-grade disinfecting spray, effective at eliminating 99.99% of microbes that carry diseases such as E. coli, H1N1, Swine Flu, and Salmonella.
  • Smart Touch is designed to be applied multiple times.
  • Eastco is applying this spray to high-touch surfaces at NYCHA senior buildings 5x per week.
  • BIOPROTECT is a water-based protective barrier that sticks to surfaces. It is sprayed on surfaces already sanitized with Smart Touch, and disinfects by creating a layer of nanospikes that destroy viruses and microbes—like the novel coronavirus—by piercing their outer membranes.
  • As BIOPROTECT binds to surfaces, it remains effective for 90 days, but NYCHA will be applying BIOPROTECT every 30 days.
  • BIOPROTECT is safe for humans and pets.
  • Used together, Smart Touch and BIOPROTECT create an effective barrier against microbes such as Novel Coronavirus, among other disease-carrying pathogens, both in the short and long term.
  • Development management offices and other office spaces in senior buildings—desks, chairs, computer equipment and high-touch areas in bathrooms and kitchens—are also being disinfected with Smart Touch 3x per week, and every 30 days disinfected with BIOPROTECT.


Outreach and communication:

  • NYCHA is making COVID-19 information available through direct outreach to residents through robocalls, emails, multilingual posters, the MyNYCHA App, daily social media posts, and posting on resident, employee and public websites.
  • Since March 2, we have sent approximately 1.25 million communications, including emails, phone calls, robocalls and social media posts to our public housing residents, Section 8 residents, vulnerable residents, TA leaders and the general public.
  • We have sent 9 emails out to approximately 120,000 residents, two robocalls in four different languages to 166,000 households and a push notification to 6,000 residents.
  • A targeted robocall to seniors with messaging about COVID-19 precautions and resources for coping with stress and anxiety reached 69,577 households.
  • We have made individual wellness check phone calls to over 10,000 vulnerable residents, connecting them to resources and sharing key COVID-19 information.
  • We have posted multiple daily updates on Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn and posted videos and photos our website and in The NYCHA Journal. We have also been reposting guidance from the City, State and local officials.
  • We have sent 5 emails to our Section 8 residents reaching approximately 25,000 residents per email.
  • We have sent 8 emails with updates directly to our Tenant Association Leaders with messages about COVID-19 precautions, providing information about NYCHA’s efforts and sharing information regarding important resources in their community.
  • We have also made individual phone calls to our TA leaders and are in almost daily communication with the Citywide Council of Presidents leadership. Each Tenant Association has a dedicated point of contact that is in communication with them multiple times each week.
  • NYCHA has shared important resource information with residents, including where to access grab-and-go meals and other food programs, including local distribution events organized with our community-based partners.
  • We have posted COVID-19 safety posters in Spanish, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified) and Russian at all 316 NYCHA developments and more than 2,200 buildings.
  • We have regularly been in touch with staff and elected officials with updates and guidance.
  • Rent hardship flyers, a letter to public housing residents on rent hardship, a section 8 resident letter on rent hardship, a section 8 program participant process adjustment document, a letter to residents regarding property management, a COVID-19 safety resident letter and a staff working in apartments letter have been translated into 8 additional languages – Arabic, French, Bengali, Haitian Creole, Korean, Urdu, Yiddish, Polish.
  • As we learn more information, we are keeping residents informed in real-time about necessary temporary changes to our policies and services.

Vulnerable residents and services:

  • Through NYCHA’s Community Engagement & Partnerships, we are making ongoing individual phone calls to our most vulnerable population to confirm first-hand that they understand the precautions regarding COVID-19 and to identify whether they have any special needs at this time. We are working with NYC agency and community partners and making efforts to ensure sure they have access to food, medication and necessary health and social services.
  • We have daily calls with DFTA, Dept. of Health, and other City agencies to monitor policies related to the senior population.
  • DFTA is providing grab-and-go meals at limited NYCHA and other DFTA-operated senior centers.
  • NYCHA continues to promote grab-and-go meals available at DOE schools.
  • DYCD Community Centers are currently closed.

Outages and work orders:

  • While all planned heat, hot water and water outages are suspended until further notice, special heating and elevator crews, and other emergency teams, continue to provide 24/7 coverage and repairs.
  • NYCHA staff will continue to respond to and perform EMERGENCY work orders defined as no heat and hot water conditions, water leaks, gas leaks, flooding conditions, stoppages, electrical issues, and hazardous conditions.
  • We will respond to work orders to correct the following specific conditions: No power in entire apartment; partial power impacting kitchens or bathrooms; no electrical power to life sustaining equipment; cabinets falling off walls; pest infestations; stove or refrigerators not working; smoke/carbon monoxide detectors not working; window guard missing/loose; apartment door not working.
  • We will conduct lead remediation, and collect dust wipe samples only in units in the 92 developments where we presume there is lead based paint and a child under six resides or visits and/or have a positive XRF test result regardless of having a child under six residing or visits.
  • We will perform critical work orders generated as a result of a court order, a commissioner order to abate or other violation, or through our own work order process.
  • We will conduct mold inspections and, if mold conditions are found, the necessary remediation and repair work.
  • All other work, including scheduled repairs for non-emergency work, Annual Inspections and other Skilled Trades or Maintenance Work in occupied units, will be suspended.
  • Residents can call the CCC at 718-707-7771 if they need to request an emergency repair. Trained representatives are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • NYCHA staff visiting residents’ apartments to perform the above-mentioned services and repairs will take precautionary measures before entering apartments including asking about residents’ health and maintaining social distance.
  • Residents are also taking appropriate precautionary measures including asking staff members about their health before allowing entrance into their apartments.

Staffing and Services:

  • During the state of emergency, NYCHA is working to ensure adequate staffing levels to provide each development with continuous essential and emergency services.
  • NYCHA’s Property Management Offices are open, but to further implement social distancing best practices, we have reduced the number of staff in every office and we have suspended direct-contact meetings between staff and residents.
  • Management Office staff will continue to assist residents via telephone, email, and through scheduled appointments to speak to staff from behind the reception desk.
  • Property Management Offices will accept documentation in the office or via email; they will be available to discuss confidential information via phone or in the office; they will accept notices of intent to vacate and return keys, cylinder/mailbox changes or copies of keys; and they will accept responses to Annual Window Guard Notice and Child Under 6 Survey.
  • There will be no in-person rent collection. Rent should be paid via mail, phone, MYNYCHA App and online through authorized banks. If you are concerned about paying your rent or you experiencing financial hardship, please also go to https://nychajournal.nyc/guidance-to-public-housing-residents-on-rent-hardships/ [nychajournal.nyc], for more information about programs you may qualify for.
  • We have implemented additional development-based maintenance protocols based on NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene best practices for social distancing.

Closures and Suspensions:

  • NYCHA suspended resident evictions for as long as the City is under a state of emergency to keep our families healthy and housed during these uncertain times.
  • As per NYCHA’s existing rent hardship policy, residents can file an interim recertification to decrease their rent due to decreased income. Rent hardship qualifications include at least a 5 percent reduction to gross income, current rent at more than 30 percent of the net household income and a reduction in income has lasted at least two months. An interim recertification is a change in a household’s composition, income, disability, senior, citizenship status or student status that occurs between annual recertification periods. Tenants can apply for an interim recertification on NYCHA’s self-service portal or by calling the management office.
  • We have made information regarding methods of paying rent—through mail, phone, MYNYCHA App, online through authorized banks—to all of our residents.
  • We continue to provide information to all our residents regarding eviction suspension, rent hardship and rent payments, through emails, NYCHA websites, social media and property signage.
  • NYCHA’s Administrative Hearing Office is postponing all cases until the end of March, at which time we will reevaluate the hearing schedule to determine if the postponement should be extended.
  • NYCHA has postponed all in-person public meetings and events at NYCHA offices and developments.
  • The Brooklyn and Bronx Customer Contact Walk-in Centers are closed to the public until further notice.