NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – A 19-year-old mother made a grisly discovery on Jan. 7, when she found her two-month-old baby girl dead in her bassinet. The mother told the police and paramedics that she had covered the child in a “heavy fleece blanket” because her apartment lacked heat. The mother also said that she had complained to various city organizations that deal with heat issues, but to no avail, according to news reports.
“A lot of people are angry about this senseless death,” stated Carlos Rovira, an activist with the ANSWER (Act Now Against War and Racism) Coalition. Mr. Rovira said that activists had taken to the streets in the Bronx, handing out leaflets that explains tenants’ rights in dealing with landlords that don’t provide heat.
Nellie Bailey, of the Harlem Tenants Council and a member of the steering committee of the New York State Millions More Movement, said that there are far too many landlords in the city that hold back on heat and hot water as a tactic to drive tenants out.
“We are in the midst of an investigation now to see if that is what is happening with this particular management group. We are hearing that there have been three other deaths in buildings managed by these same people over the past four years,” Ms. Bailey informed. “The harassment of tenants, by holding back the heat, is an old and longstanding tactic used by landlords in New York City,” she added.
Ironically, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion issued a warning on Jan. 5 to city agencies to be prepared to help tenants with heating complaints. Mr. Carrion stated in his report, entitled “No Heat for The Bronx,” that 29 percent of heat complaints called to the Housing Department came from his borough.
“We had more than 6,500 complaints in December, and the cold wave has yet to hit,” he told reporters after a meeting with city officials.
However, there is another side to this story. Activists say that citizens, whether they are renting an apartment or own a home, have concerns about coping with expensive energy bills.
In an emailed message from the AARP New York State Legislative Office to The Final Call, it was stated that most New Yorkers are worried about being able to bear the cost of home energy bills. In the AARP survey released Jan. 11, the key findings are: “over 80 percent of New Yorkers are concerned about being able to afford the cost of heating their homes this winter; nearly 20 percent have delayed buying necessities such as food or prescription drugs.”
“Energy price spikes reported in the news over the last four months are showing up in customers’ bills today,” stated Ben Wiles, senior attorney for the Public Utility Law Project (PULP), in a statement released to the press. PULP is an organization dedicated to advancing the interests of low-income and rural consumers in energy, telecommunications and other utility-related matters.
According to AARP, while older persons use about the same amount of energy as younger people, they tend to devote a higher percentage of their total spending on heating their homes. “In fact, one out of every four low-income older persons spends 20 percent or more of their total income on home energy bills,” AARP said.
Heating one’s home is not just a New York issue.
In a November story in the Post-Gazette published in Pittsburgh, Penn., the writer tells of a 63-year-old retiree with a 14-year-old granddaughter without heat. City authorities confronted the landlord, and only after threats of fines did the landlord turn on her heat.
According to the newspaper, the landlord owed the Water and Sewer Authority $5,276, and the water was about to be turned off. He also owed $1,200 in real estate taxes.
In Baltimore, WBAL TV 11 reported on Dec. 7 that residents of an apartment complex said their landlord was not supplying heat. The temperature was in the 20s that week. The management company told a reporter from the station that tenants were using their ovens to heat their apartments, and that was confusing the boiler’s sensors.
On Jan. 8, the Chicago Tribune, in a section on landlord/tenant issues, a questioner asked if they could break their lease if the landlord does not supply heat. The answer was that the landlord must be notified; and if heat has not been restored within 72 hours, the tenant has the right to end their occupancy.
The problem is universal, says Ms. Bailey, and the Millions More Movement must place it on the agenda immediately. “Activists have to let people know that we are creating a high-level institutional process to help with these issues,” she stressed.
(For more information on the Harlem Tenants Council, call (212) 234-5005 or visit their website at www.harlemtenants.org. Ms. Bailey may be heard on radio station WHCR 90.3 FM, every Monday from 6:30-7 p.m. on Harlem Real Estate Review; and the second Friday of each month on the same station from 7:15 –
8 p.m. on “In the House with Nellie Bailey.”)