Life in NYCHA Housing: Pros vs. Cons



By a public housing resident

Life in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings gets a bad rap in the media but there are many upsides. Applying for a spot is a lengthy process, but it is well worth it if you don’t mind sporadic violence, dilapidated facilities and being stuck outside on freezing winter nights because you are keyless.

What you get in return is drastically reduced rent and no utilities bills. Rent for a two-bedroom in the projects is about $290 a month. People don’t talk about it often, maybe because the renters across the street pay about 10 times as much and share the same environment.

New York City is known for its views, and those who wish to sleep on high have to dish out more cash. But NYCHA allows the experience to be shared by those who will never be able to afford it otherwise.

Day-to-day life is not quite as dramatic as stories in the media might suggest, but they can be loud. Downstairs at night, yells resonate from outside. I peer out the window and overhear two middle-aged men argue about marital problems. One walks away yelling some nasty words. And then “I slept with your wife” and it’s on.

The husband leaps off the bench, tackles his taunter, and soon they are rolling on the ground, punches flying. Their friends surround them, one cracks a bottle on the head of the husband. I think to myself, “I’m going to stop watching because I don’t want to be a witness. They were clearly willing to take this pretty far.” Just then, the cops show up and separate the two. No one is apprehended, the police just split the guys up.

Lesson learned. Wear headphones while sleeping.

It’s 4 AM the next night and I’m staring into the mirror, a frown reflecting back at me. I can’t believe the sirens were so loud that my $100 headphones couldn’t mute the sound. Suddenly, I hear loud screams coming from the bathroom window. Unlike my bedroom window, this one faces more public housing.

Another night, I hopped in the elevator. Inside are two other guys. More guys got in, discussing how someone was drunk. I heard a pop and the door opens to a ruckus. The guys leave the elevator slowly and a woman staggers into an elevator, covered in blood, before she stumbles back out.

Some of the things that happen in my building are startling, but life in general is pretty normal. And given anyone who pays normal rent across the street has to deal with the same neighborhood issues, it’s a good deal. Almost unfair.

The biggest drawback is the lack of good food options in the immediate vicinity. My building is actually fairly nice compared to some. And things have gotten better since I first moved in.

Two summers ago, loud gunshots rang across the block. No one else seemed to notice. July Fourth was still days away, but somehow these noises were not accompanied by bright lights in the sky. Those in my household continued on with their day, with no comment. It went on for a month straight. I finally had to ask.

“Are those gunshots or fireworks?”

“They’re gunshots. They usually stop in the morning,” said my sister. Usually…

After the sun sets, the moon shines bright over New York City. But in housing, if you look below, it is pitch black. There are no lights in the fall to illuminate the only path that leads home. Yet spring brings tons of light, not from the stars above, or street lamps down below. It is courtesy of the N.Y.P.D. which sets up light towers when crime spikes. You can always tell when crime is spiking because fewer people go outside.

However, all the light in the world can’t save you from the dreaded front door.

Front door keys are not given to all residents and you can’t make a copy if you have one. Keys costs $30 and many people go without. This means that people who only have their apartment key and not the front door key must use a key pad to ring someone to open the door. The key pad is a mind-boggling four-digit code. A simple number and letter would have sufficed. If it worked of course.

It’s been 13 years since I first laid eyes on the key pad. It didn’t work then either. A relentless punishment for those who want to get inside. I’ve come home at 2 or 3 AM and seen people waiting by the door in the cold for someone who has to work early in the morning. And if it’s Sunday, there is a local laundromat that can provide warmth until residents come out and start opening the door.

Sometimes people get pissed. I’m never been there to see it, but the aftermath is pretty clear: a shattered front glass to get the door open. Sometimes, people remove the actual key lock and it takes weeks for it to be replaced. I’ve often wondered how they manage that.

Let’s say you do get inside, now you have to wait for the infamous elevator, whose smell is nothing but an assault on the senses. Dog piss being the number one contender. If you ever find yourself in housing, the number one rule after surviving is scanning the elevator floor.

Timing is everything, but not for these elevators. In the morning it’s fine, because if you leave about 10 minutes earlier than you have to, the elevator will be bound to come in time. But sometimes it never arrives and you must take the stairs, where you never know what you might find. Or who. Sometimes, people sleep in the staircase. Or the rare time when you’re grateful the aroma of dog piss didn’t accompany you on your ride down, only to find a naked drug addict rushing to put her clothes on.

Sometimes the housing authority needs to shut things down. Like the gas for example. I haven’t had a stove for an entire month! Of course, they took care of us by providing an electric stove with one burner. It did last a few days before malfunctioning. Turning off heat seems to be a common occurrence as I’ve come to find during the hours of 4 to 6 AM there is no hot water.

But come summer time, all those cons fade away. In the summers, you can enjoy unlimited air-conditioning because there are no utility bills. Neighborhoods always change, but housing only changes relative to those who live in the area. The wave of New Yorkers moving in don’t seem to care about the location. Money spenders are welcome everywhere they force the local stores and even schools to renovate to attract more.

Living in housing has drastically reduced the stress of living in a city with astronomical rent. Why a doctor would live across the street from NYCHA housing will always be a mystery to me. But I do know one thing. I’ve never seen anyone waiting outside in the cold for someone to let them in. They have a doorman. And to think it only takes five seconds to reach the greener side of the grass. You get what you pay for.

2 Responses to Life in NYCHA Housing: Pros vs. Cons

  1. Mariano965 August 19, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    Why I moved to Arizona…

  2. Mariano965 August 19, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    New York may have great food but the quality of life there is horrible….besides with the internet and money you can order any food you want….the only dog scents I smell are outside in the doghouse…


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