“I have an AC in every room. With these brick walls? I’d die without it,” said one public housing resident at her 125th Street Harlem building. She was one of the lucky ones. For many of the elderly residents in Harlem public housing, luxuries like these are not as easily obtained.
I’m from Forest Hills, Queens and am a high school student at the Bronx High School of Science. In conjunction with two of my classmates, Eva Luna Gartner and Eleanor LaFauci, we decided to delve further into this issue that had scattered headlines of notable publications last summer. Our social science research class gave us the tools to investigate the problem further, and now, we want to bring awareness to the issue and what we believe is the best course of action for NYCHA.
We conducted a study spanning about two months where we gave surveys to residents in the New York City community. The first of these surveys were given out to residents of Harlem public housing where we inquired about their personal battles with cooling. Our results showed that for the majority of these people, cooling centers provided by the city have not been as effective of a solution as one may have hoped. In fact, we found that 72% of people surveyed said they did not know where the nearest cooling center was, while 20% stated that they did know. Only 8% of them had been to a city cooling center at all. In an interview with reporter Julia Longoria of WNYC, we realized that this lack of awareness of locations of cooling centers was compounded by the fact that they are often not open at the times announced, not always close to homes, and is hard to reach for those with disabilities or those who were elderly. Landowners are currently mandated to provide heating during the summer but not cooling during the winter. Cooling is not a luxury; it is a necessity.
Our second survey explored what could be done to mitigate the effects of this issue. We found that people were overwhelmingly supportive of the situation. In fact, 57.5% of all survey participants said that they would be willing to donate old or unused air conditioners or cooling appliances and 55% stated that they would be prepared to give money online to public housing for this issue. While surveying, one participant asked where she could donate her old air conditioners to this cause. There was no clear answer that we could give her because there is not one. But, there should be. This response shed light on an important finding: NYC does have the supply, but people don’t know where to go, and organizations that are engaged in this issue are not reaching out to this supply. Therefore, there is a disconnect between the “supply and demand,” and these organizations. Donors need to be connected. NYCHA should help connect non-public housing resident to donation centers like HEAP, who have done a phenomenal job in addressing this issue, but they need more supply! Often, when people apply to receive free air conditioners from organizations like HEAP, they are often turned away because they are in such short supply.
What we need to understand is that we have a supply. We have people willing to donate their old or unused appliances, to give their money. All we need now is some action: for word about this issue to spread, for direct donation sites to be created, for public housing residents to live under the conditions they deserve. No person should have to live in extreme heat without cooling. They deserve more than that. NYCHA and New Yorkers, our residents, need your help!