A Dream Deferred: The Broken Promise of New York City Public Housing | Full Episode | Local, USA

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Coming up on Local, U.S.A., more than 400,000 people
live in apartments run by the New York
City Housing Authority. SYLVIA ARRINGTON: When I came
here, the place was beautiful. Over the years,
it’s going down so bad. MARTIN: Broken promises
and neglect have left many in filthy, dangerous
living conditions. SHELEVYA PEARSON:
I knew that I was ingesting a lot of the mold and the mildew while I was pregnant. And she was born
at seven months. YVONNE DAVIS:
Plastic to the windows will guarantee us
respiratory problems. DANIEL BARBER:
The last couple of days here have been literally hell. MARTIN: Meet the residents
who are fighting for healthy and safe housing. GIBSON: I don’t expect my mother
to live in squalor. BARBER: Band-Aids can
no longer become our solutions. We need permanent fixes. REGINALD BOWMAN: We actually are
thriving communities that deserve the
amount of investment as any other community. MARTIN: “A Dream Deferred: The Broken Promise of
New York City Public Housing” on Local, U.S.A. A Production of WNET’s
Chasing the Dream initiative on poverty and
opportunity in America. ♪ ANDREW CUOMO: The conditions
that I’ve seen here in NYCHA are some of the worst
I have seen anywhere. And the shame is
NYCHA at one time was the model of public housing. It was the best. It’s gone from
the best to the worst. (crowd agreeing) You have children living
with asthma in units with mold. (crowd agreeing) This is New York City! It’s not a Third World country. You are 400,000 people. You want to get the attention
of the politicians? You say, “400,000.”
(crowd agreeing) You want to get people
to support you? Expose the conditions
and the truth. There is no one
who will see what I saw and allow it to continue. ♪ REGINALD BOWMAN:
The image of public housing and the people that live
in public housing sometimes gets distorted. Rarely do you hear from the
people who actually live here what is going on in these places that
seem to be surrounded by the brick walls
of public housing. ♪ I raised six children here. I don’t expect my mother
to live in squalor. The last couple of days here
have been literally hell. I don’t know what
they going to do. I don’t know when
they going to start fixing up our neighborhood. ♪ SYLVIA ARRINGTON:
My name is Sylvia Arrington. I’ve been complaining for years,
it falls on deaf ears. So, we decided to work together, a few other people
in the community, and bring the place back to the
way it was when I moved here. I spent money buying rose trees and every kind
of flower out there. I’ve had people tell me, “The reason we come this way
to go to work is to admire your flowers.” It’s just my idea
of the way I want to live. I want to be a part
of something beautiful. I was raised in the ghetto. I have a sense of decency. I have pride,
and I have dignity. When I came here,
the place was beautiful. I loved it. Over the years
it’s gone down so bad, and it’s been so neglected. ♪ So now it smells horrible
in here right now, smell like a wet dog. This smells good compared
to what it can smell like. But it’s just the
beginning of the night. Out here, 18, not that bad. Let’s note… now,
people live up here, you know. Homeless people live here,
honey. Here’s a, here’s a condom ’cause that’s
what they like doing in the middle of the night. Right? And here’s the roof. There’s no security
in your buildings, there’s no working intercom
in your buildings. And the doors are unlocked. You have people living
all over your building, and the manager doesn’t care
about the facility, right? And that would be NYCHA. You don’t see any bars
that’s over here. If I want to drag you
out of here and toss you, I can. That’s a problem. ♪ We need to get up out of here. I can’t handle it but that long. This smells worse
than a train station urinal. You have feces. ♪ I can’t handle it no more. My stomach just turned. Hi, Hoppy. (Hoppy speaking inaudibly) You know, you can go home
to your nice place at night and lock your door
and go to sleep. But you leave us here to suffer. ♪ The last couple of days here
have been literally hell. The senior building,
3135 Park Avenue, the pipe broke in the wall. And the water ran continuously from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Where the shutoff valves are,
nothing is labeled, nothing is marked or tagged. No one knows where the
shutoff valve is or isn’t, and it became a catastrophe. The pipe didn’t break in a wall because it couldn’t handle
just the pressure, the pipe was old. The pipe was rusted, corroded,
it looked horrible. It-it shows that Band-Aids can
no longer become our solutions. We need permanent fixes. ♪ (sighs) PERCIVAL GRANT: Okay, we have seven. And, um… There, that one, you see? YVONNE DAVIS: My name is Yvonne Davis, and I’ve been living here
at least 40 years. When I first moved here,
we had our maintenance man. We knew him by name. He knew us by name. And if he came to fix something, and I point out something else,
he went on to fix it, okay. Everything didn’t require
a work order. When he saw things
that were out of his area, he made sure it was reported
to a supervisor. The maintenance was a lot better
back then than it is now. When I first moved here,
it was nice. RESIDENT: Who is it?
– Housing. RESIDENT: Who is it?
– Housing. GRANT (voiceover): (dog barking) See? You know… um. CAMERA OPERATOR: You know? It’s, it’s too… if they… RESIDENT:
You can come in. – Oh, it’s you. (chuckles) Okay, let me see, okay, but… Oh, let them… RESIDENT: How dare they leave this sink
here, and I have a one-year-old
grandchild running around the house.
GRANT: Okay, we… RESIDENT: March 29. ♪ DAVIS: Well, that’s the plastic
that my husband put up to help keep
some of the rainwater from out of our bedroom. Windows are completely
sealed off with plastic, and we cannot open it up, so therefore we don’t
get fresh air. So we constantly,
at night, okay, we in here breathing
unclean air. It still leaks,
but it doesn’t pour down now as bad as it did before
he put the plastic up. To sleep in the bedroom
with plastic to the windows will guarantee us
respiratory problems. Because as you can see,
we’re not little children. Okay, so, it,
it’s a health concern. We follow the rules,
we pay our rent, okay, so I don’t think
I have to beg and plead to get the services
that I’m duly entitled to. I’m not a hellraiser, per se. Okay, I do try to exercise the patience the Lord
tell me I must have, But enough is enough. ♪ RESIDENT:
Yeah, man, trip over the sink. GRANT: Okay.
– It’s on the floor. ♪ (dog barking) We asked…
GRANT: Okay. Have to leave the sink here. And my grandson, it hurts. (dog barking) (indistinct talking) What I’ll do, I’ll come back
and let you know… – Thank you,
thank you very much. GRANT: Okay. Yeah, it’s a long time. Okay, okay. All right, okay, so I just… Okay, all right, okay. (elevator beeping, humming) ♪ PEARSON:
I’m Shelevya Pearson, and I’m 43 years old. I’ve been living in Seth Low
Houses for my entire life. They had to bust
the ceiling open here. They had to knock
this entire wall down. The maintenance man
came in here, and his foot went
through the wall. That’s how corroded
the walls are. ♪ It had been like many years of just, like, holes
in my walls, leaks behind the walls. And I became pregnant. And I knew that I was, like,
ingesting a lot of the mold and the mildew
while I was pregnant. ♪ At the time I was working
at Baruch College, you know, for the human resources
department. I’m getting sick,
I’m not feeling well, I still have to go to work. Just one night, you know,
in the sixth month, my water broke in
the middle of the night. On August 1,
2:13 in the morning, at two pounds and 13 ounces,
Sakajawia was born. She was just developing outside, and she was born at seven
months, opposed to nine months. So, it was very touch-and-go. ♪ And they said, you know, “We have to give her a bunch of
shots for her lungs– “they’re not developed. Her brain isn’t
fully developed.” I was, like, traumatized
from the entire experience. Bang, leg lift. – Oh, I got to hold on first. PEARSON: Bang. Good job.
(chuckles) It was nothing that I can do
about her being preemie, right, and her being born with
underdeveloped lungs from the beginning, right? So she was always ultra
sensitive. So, to bring her into an
environment that’s just not a 100%
air quality like the hospital, you know, it was very
touch-and-go for me. I didn’t get any sleep
when she was a baby. Everything else that occurred
after she left the hospital at four pounds and six ounces
is when they released her. The asthma kicked in
when she returned home. ♪ I believe that housing did
contribute to that a great deal. How was your college tour? Oh good– in Boston. We went to go see Brandis. I have pictures. What is it called? It’s Brand…
Brandeis University. Yeah, Brandeis, Brandis,
I don’t know how… PEARSON: My job was calling me
like, “When are you coming back
to work, Miss Pearson?” And I was like,
“Seriously? Seriously?” – This guy, he was, he was nice. My family never let me measure
my dignity with capital, right? It was never about
how much money my family had. We’ve always been
very dignified people. Uh… there’s
no more juice, Mommy. So, she’s on our Albuterol,
she gets steroids sometimes. She has the allergy medicine, they put her on the Flonase when she can’t breathe
through the nose. I usually buy her Robitussin when the chest gets really
congested, to help aid her. So we try our best to make sure
that we’re not eating the sugar. Make sure that we’re not eating
too much of, like, starches,
because that’s sugar too. We don’t do soda, right. And we do the alkaline water. How does your chest feel before you actually have
to take the Albuterol? – That I can’t breathe.
– Mm-hmm. ♪ When he called me to tell me that my child, my only child
had collapsed inside of this public school,
my heart sank. ♪ You can feel helpless. You know, you can feel
very defeated. You can feel like the only people you have
to talk to was the doctors. The doctors, you don’t know if they telling you the complete
truth about your child. You feel like,
“Why my baby has to be on all these different
types of medications?” And I began to get
very depressed. Instead of me staying
in that state, because it’s just not healthy,
it’s not healthy for me. And if I’m not healthy,
then she’s not healthy. (elevator bell chimes) – Hi baby, how are you doing? This is not a coincidence, that our children are
severe asthmatics. We are subjected to this, right? We’re becoming
pregnant women, right? And we’re having these babies
in the same environment, we’re breathing this air and
these babies are coming out with, you know, problems,
asthmatics, having respiratory issues. When you fight
in a battle, right, you can either get very angry,
and your anger can defeat you, or you can get very proactive. And I need to be that adamant
about it, right? Because if I wasn’t
a strong individual, I would have been destroyed. ♪ (chattering) How you doing? ALICKA AMPRY-SAMUEL:
It is a beautiful day, because right when
we got started, what, the sun just started to shine. So, it’s a beautiful day to have
the governor here with us. (cheers and applause) NYCHA and public housing has not
been given their fair share. It has been ignored,
it has been neglected for too long. And today is a different day. ♪ REGINALD BOWMAN:
Cuomo’s recent investment in public housing was a response to the pressure that the
residents of public housing, in the city of New York
in particular, put on the state, the city,
and the federal government, and them recognizing that we
have an enormous voting bloc. ♪ (chattering in background) AMPRY-SAMUEL:
My name is Councilwoman Alicka
Ampry-Samuel, and I chair the
Public Housing Committee in the New York City Council. We have to the right of me Regional Administrator
Lynne Patton, who was appointed by the
president of the United States. (cheers and applause) On June 11, the New York City
Housing Authority and the United States
Attorney General’s Office announced a proposed
consent decree. ♪ There was no way in the world I would have been able
to sit here this morning and have a public hearing
about NYCHA’S revenue without first having a
conversation with the people. (applause) JERMEL WILSON: I haven’t had
gas in my house for… since May 28. When I went down to the housing
office, and I asked them when the gas was going to be on,
you know what they gave me? A one burner hot plate
and told me to work it out. I don’t expect my mother
to live in squalor. Yesterday, the waste line broke. She lives on the first floor, everything from 16 stories above
came to her apartment. When I went out, Miss HUD,
to ask the caretaker to help us get this water up,
Mr. Jerry– that’s his name,
I’ll put everybody on blast– sent me across the street
to talk to someone who was cutting the hedges in
preparation for you all today. The president comes
to New York often. And it will be my goal
to make sure that he sees the deplorable
conditions in NYCHA firsthand and also has the opportunity
to see the good things that we’re going to be doing, enforcing this consent decree. Combined with federal
and state and city aid, NYCHA will now be getting
about $4 billion over the next four years to fix
its deteriorated buildings. AMPRY-SAMUEL: We’re going
to keep this going to the next town hall meeting,
right? This is not
sugarcoating nothing, y’all know me, I’m Brownsville
all day, every day. I’m born and raised in NYCHA,
right, so we… so the complaints will be heard,
they will be addressed, and I’m going
to make sure of it. LISA EVERS FOX: A NYCHA town
hall here at the Seth Low Houses organized by City Council member
Alicka Ampry-Samuel. Residents heard from HUD Regional Administrator
Lynne Patton. Patton says the health crisis
for NYCHA residents is worse than Flint, Michigan,
and vows it will be fixed. WOMAN: I feel cheated. It wasn’t done
for the residents. It was done for y’all. But I appreciate it
in the long run, but we’ll see what happens. So this is a big smokescreen that we did this big meeting
with NYCHA to show that we’re going
to do improvements. That’s not going to happen. ♪ BOWMAN: I’ve seen a lot in the years that I’ve been
in this community. And I’m still anxious
and excited about working to make sure
that the public policy for the residents of
public housing here at Seth Low and the residents
of public housing citywide and statewide
and nationally, gets changed so that there’s
a restoration of the resident-friendly
public policies that will take care
of the people that live in the
public housing community. ♪ Has there been progress made? Have I seen any changes? Yeah, there have been changes in
the people who sit in the seats. I call it the public relations
government shuffle, or the civil service shuffle, where some people have been
removed from their position in NYCHA, some of them have been shifted
into other positions. Welcome to the
resident counsel office. Come on in. The day that we had
the town hall meeting at Seth Low Houses, my thoughts on that day were whether or not this was
just a political circus, or it was going to be a platform for being able to actually
get some policy changes for the people in our community. Really, I ain’t seen
nothing yet. WOMAN: That’s right.
– I ain’t seen nothing. They can…
this is what they do. They come out, they have us out,
we answer, we ask questions. The next day
we don’t see nothing. We don’t see nothing being done,
you know? And every time
it’s election time, that’s when they all start
coming out of the cookie jar. You know, that’s like the had
that young lady from the,
from the president’s office sleeping for weeks in the
projects to get things done, and the same situation’s
still going on. So what was that all about? I don’t know what
they’re going to do. I don’t know when
they’re going to start fixing up our neighborhood. BOWMAN: Many of these buildings
are over 60 and 70 years old. If you ignore a building
for that many years, sooner or later
it crosses the threshold into a condemned property, because you can’t restore
something that’s that old. PEARSON: The property
is falling apart, not the mentality of the people. You ready?
– Yeah. – All right, so you can grab
your jacket and-and stuff and head down.
– Okay. PEARSON: If the mayor
and the governor decided that it was a wrap and the programs were… to privatize
public housing existed, then we would have
nowhere to go, because the skyscrapers
that they’re building, the condominiums
that they’re building all around New York City,
is unaffordable. BOWMAN: Public housing is one of
the main contributors to the economy. The spending power alone makes us an essential part
of the cornerstone of the economy
of the city of New York. People have to start looking at
us from a different
point of view now. That even though we might look
like we’re from the hood, we’re still
mainstream Americans, and we bleed red, white,
and blue like anybody else. (chuckles) ♪ Yeah, it’s time for another
Family Day of celebration. MAN: Seth Low Day?
– Seth Low Day is on Saturday. – Ooh, baby, that’s
what I’m talking about. BOWMAN: Games, music, fun,
and food. All at a time. And that’s part of what we do
here in public housing to make sure that our culture
and our community stays intact. (music playing on speakers) PEARSON: It’s all
about the people. And if you love on the people, the people will love
back on you. They love their community. How long have you been
living here, Miss Diane? – 50 years.
– 50 years Miss Diane been living
in New York City housing. Hello, my name is
Janie Washington Bennett. I’m a product of Brownsville. I used to live right over there
when I was a kid. ♪ Take it back now y’all
– Take it back, take it back. – ♪ One hop this time ♪ Whoo ♪ One hop this time
♪ Whoo ♪ Right foot, two stomps. BOWMAN: We want the people to
know that this isn’t a jungle. This is a place
of human resources and everyday American life like any other community. We actually are live, vital,
thriving communities that are generating
just as much resources and deserve the amount
of investment from the government and from
private and other sectors as any other community. (music playing on speakers) BOY: Yeah, yeah,
hey, hey, hey, hey. ♪ ♪ MARTIN: Stay up to date
on Local, U.S.A. at WorldChannel.org. Subscribe to
World Channel’s YouTube to watch full episodes
and see exclusive content. And for more stories
like “A Dream Deferred,” go to PBS.org/ChasingtheDream. ♪ ♪

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