By Maitefa Angaza
NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) residents have suffered a crushing blow from the coronavirus, and the Marcy Houses on Park Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant have suffered more deaths than any other NYCHA development, with 21 to date.
Borough President Eric Adams, disgusted by the tragic disparities in the number of cases here, compared to citywide, and by the sluggish pace at which attention was paid, called a press conference in front of those projects on Tuesday. He was joined by Councilman Robert Cornegy, himself a COVID-19 survivor, and by Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel.
“You cannot go to the communities that will have the greatest impact and treat them as an afterthought, said Adams. “The numbers didn’t lie. And so, we are outraged — but not surprised — at the number of deaths that have taken place right here in Marcy Houses.”
Adams, Cornegy and Ampry-Samuel also want to know why NYCHA tenants across the city weren’t informed earlier of the epidemic nature of the spread in their developments. Adams pointed to a different response to the very first NYC case of COVID-19.
“And what troubles me is that I received a call today from a young lady that was at the convention when the first case took place in Westchester. She stated that when the doctor [who contracted the disease] was diagnosed, they got a letter telling them that they had possibly been exposed to the coronavirus. Then they got a communication saying that it was confirmed. So we were able to do contact tracing in Westchester; we should be able to do it in NYCHA.”
Cornegy, whose district covers Bedford-Stuyvesant and Northern Crown Heights, knows firsthand of the terrors of COVID-19. He is incensed by the lack of regard NYCHA residents have received from the City.
“I hold before me a letter, which we sent over a month ago to the governor’s office,” said Cornegy, “asking us to be proactive instead of reactive, asking for rapid testing at the Pfizer Center, which is only a block away from here.
“NYCHA residents are not second-class citizens. They are some of the finest contributors to the community at large. It is beyond reprehensible that now, months later, we’re beginning to understand the importance of the hundreds of thousands of residents across the city, but particularly here in Brooklyn… where those numbers are escalating every single day.”
Ampry-Samuel is Chair of the City Council’s public housing committee. Her district includes Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Bushwick, Crown Heights, East Flatbush and Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
“I represent the 41st District, which has the highest concentration of public houses in North America, said Ampry-Samuel. “So as we’re in the budgeting season and we’re going through budget negotiations, I want to make sure that the residents of the public housing units are prioritized. We should be making sure that the residents have equity. This is to make sure that we restore our community. We have to get what we deserve, not just over the past two months, but over the past two or three decades.”
Interestingly and tragically, the city’s highest death count (per 100K people) is not in public housing, but at Spring Creek Towers (formerly Starrett City) a privately-owned development in Spring Creek, Brooklyn, where people also live close upon one another, and where recent figures reported 612 dead from COVID-19. Contrast this with predominantly white neighborhoods — 29 deaths in Soho and zero in Battery Park City.
The 46-year-old, privately-owned housing development has something else in common with the projects: the annual median income is less than $30,000. Once an amenities-rich haven for middle- and low-income New Yorkers, the development had fallen into disrepair without a major renovation in its history.
Spring Creek Towers, with it 14,000-plus population, dwarfs the Marcy Houses, with its close to 4,300 tenants, but it also holds the terrifying distinction of the #1 death toll in the city.