Diocesan News

Public Housing Tenants in Coney Island Without Cooking Gas for 15 Months

Laquan Vasquez demonstrates hot-plate cookery, a technique she perfected while her apartment in Coney Island had no cooking gas. She is one of 376 residents of apartments operated by New York City Housing Authority who did not have gas during a 15-month repair-and-renovation project. (Photo: Bill Miller)

CONEY ISLAND — Cooking gas returned last week to some of the 376 tenants who have been unable to use their ovens and stoves for 15 months at complexes operated by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

The main gas line sprang a leak on Aug. 30, 2021, forcing the installation of new gas lines in all of the apartments in a half dozen apartment buildings in the O’Dwyer Gardens and Surfside Gardens operated by NYCHA.

Meanwhile, NYCHA provided hot plates and slow cookers in lieu of ovens and stoves.

NYCHA spokeswoman Rochel Leah Goldblatt said on Nov. 16 that gas would finally come to some of the residents by the end of the week; the rest would follow.

She added that restoration would continue “until gas service is restored for all residents and stoves are hooked up and working.”

Laquan Vasquez has lived with two sons and a daughter for 12 years in Surfside Gardens. Her gas was restored on Nov. 18, but half the tenants in her building were still without it.

“It’s hard because it’s only one hot plate,” Vasquez explained. “You can only cook one thing at a time. It’s just not the same as using the oven. And the stove cooks faster than a hot plate. So, it’s very inconvenient.”

And expensive, said Felita Jackson, president of the tenants’ association for Surfside Gardens. She has lived there 40 years.

“A lot of times, I have to eat out,” Jackson said. “You got people spending extra money every day, all day, since we’ve been over a year without gas.”

Many of the residents attend Coney Island Gospel Assembly Church on Neptune Avenue where Pastor Constance SanFilippo-Hulla and her staff take every opportunity to help.

“This is just one little piece of sand on the beach of everything that they deal with,” she said of the 15 months without cooking gas.

She said the people have struggled against poverty, violent crime, and drug abuse since her father, the late pastor Jack SanFilippo, founded the church 65 years ago.

“Our church is filled with those people,” Pastor SanFilippo-Hulla said. “It’s a constant cycle of madness. But the church is an anchor.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 23, Coney Island Gospel Assembly held its annual “dine-in” Thanksgiving meal at Gargiulo’s Restaurant.

The church partners with the restaurant and the Alliance for Coney Island, Luna Park in Coney Island to host the annual meal.

More than a dozen Coney Island businesses and organizations sponsor the event, including Nathan’s Famous and the Brooklyn Cyclones.

 Pastor SanFilippo-Hulla said everyone was welcome at the event at Gargiulo’s, especially anyone who still might not have cooking gas.

Vasquez and Jackson are among 53 plaintiffs who sued NYCHA in September. They are represented by Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, which took the case at the request of State Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus.

“It’s really unforgivable to charge people their full rent while you are not providing the amenities that are in their leases,” said Frontus.

Vasquez is Catholic, and Jackson worships at nearby Coney Island Cathedral. They believe in the Christian value that decent, safe, and affordable housing is a human right.

Repairing the gas system has cost $3.5 million in federal funds, Goldblatt said. A task this large also required a lot of time, she added.

Goldblatt said NYCHA has taken the gas service interruptions and restoration work very seriously because they “are a matter of public safety and involve multiple partners and steps.”

 “Gas service interruptions affect cooking gas only, and are unrelated to heat or hot water service,” Goldblatt added.

One of the lawyers on the case, Kristie Ortiz-Lam, the director of the Preserving Affordable Housing Program at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, said there is a covenant for every landlord and tenant in New York City.

“As a landlord,” she added, “you have to provide essential services. Gas is one of the essential services. If you don’t provide that, it’s called a breach of a warranty of habitability.”

The lawsuit also demands completion of many other repairs.

For example, Jackson and Vasquez said their windows don’t shut properly. Other plaintiffs complained about leaky roofs, broken tiling, faulty elevators, and infestations of rodents and roaches, according to the lawsuit.

“This is ridiculous,” said Jackson, who is recovering from a stroke she suffered last year. “The windows are no good. That’s why we get all this air coming into the apartment. My God, it gets cold.”

Goldblatt said residents experiencing any issues should create work tickets by using the MyNychaApp or by calling 718-707-7771.

She also urged tenants to “share any apartment numbers or work order ticket numbers so we can check on this and make any necessary repairs.”

This year for Thanksgiving, Laquan Vasquez wanted to build her feast around turkey wings, yams, with sweet potato pie for dessert — that is, if she’d had cooking gas.

But on Nov. 17, she didn’t know if her apartment would have gas in time for Thanksgiving. Consequently, she made plans to spend the holiday with relatives in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Pastor SanFilippo-Hulla is worried about homebound people who wouldn’t be able to reach the restaurant for the pre-Thanksgiving Day feast.

“We’re going to deliver some meals to the people who I know,” Pastor SanFilippo-Hulla said. “But there’s a lot more that I don’t know.”