Teamsters Local 237

Is There Life After NYCHA?

Martin Duffy

You bet there is!
The administrative overkill at NYCHA and a three-hour commute led me to vest my pension and move on after nearly 24 years on the job. Tension, frustration, and poor habits like eating on the run because there was always too much busy work to do all contributed to my decision.

But most importantly, I felt that I was prohibited from doing the job that a housing manager needs to do to successfully run the little city that each public housing development really is. Instead of spending most of my time providing leadership for staff members and residents in all aspects of development operations, assessing problem situations, and creating possible solutions, all day long I was shoveling information to clerks in the Borough office who had no idea what the information meant. I decided that I had enough.

Coming to Albany was a breath of fresh air. Here executives encourage the managers to assume responsibility. Each manager has the power to get things done by challenging him/her self. At NYCHA, the manager was responsible for everything, but had little power and few resources to make things happen. In Albany, Managers go for extensive professional industry training, and they also receive college and graduate school tuition reimbursement. At NYCHA, managers are plagued by report- writing. It does not exist at the Albany Housing Authority.

An added bonus is that I have been able to develop my dormant teaching skills. At AHA, we offer Saturday morning training sessions for Section 8 landlords. I have developed several power point presentations. I also perform extensive staff training. Given the freedom to do our jobs, we have broken all Section 8 records here in Albany. For the first time in years, HUD has determined that the AHA Section 8 program is an outstanding performer.

In April of this year, the New York State Section 8 Administrator, DHCR invited me to teach at a statewide conference in Saratoga Springs, and in June I spoke at the NYSARO Conference. I also have enjoyed beyond words teaching two college English Composition classes per term at Hudson Valley Community College.

Despite the hardships, however, I do have some fond memories of NYCHA. I remember at Ingersoll Houses in Brooklyn in the late 70s when there was a missing child, and union members mobilized to help the police find this guy “dead eye” who was thought to be with the child. I remember the workers scouring the buildings from basement to the roofs trying to help.

I remember my staff at Marble Hill Houses making herculean efforts to assist residents in the 90s when we suffered 17 water main breaks in a very short period of time. Caretakers delivered gallons of water to each apartment, in addition to their regular duties.

I remember, in the late 90s, caretakers there donning the white “ET” suits to help clean a resident’s apartment that was packed with debris from floor to ceiling.

I remember the two great housing electricians who told me “don’t worry Mr. D, we’ll take care of it,” when we discovered at Soundview Houses that a tenant with mental problems was boiling the blood of animals so much that the ceiling was covered with condensated blood. The electric box was hanging off the wall, and the apartment had no lights. Other workers always seemed to be able to avoid this apartment, but these two fellows started the ball rolling to turn this situation around. Once I got the power back on, I was able to get the painters in there, replace the floor tile, and clean up the place. And over the years our union members did an incredible job during power outages and other disaster type situations.

Folks who leave NYCHA these days have very few fond memories like the retirees of the past. Nowadays, there is no smiling Chairman Joseph J. Christian encouraging and congratulating employees for a job well done. There is no Mel Cohen to turn to, and look up to. Our simple but elegant mission to provide safe, decent and affordable housing has been lost somehow; scrambled in a vortex of politics, social engineering, misplaced ambition and management by crisis.

 

Oral History Project

Hercules Cornish: Caretaker J Stores Man

Herclules CornishHercules Cornish went to work for the Housing Authority as a caretaker J in 1952 and retired 24 years later as a stores worker. He died the year following this interview, which was conducted in June 1999.

Originally I was from Harlem, but when I came out of the service in 1945 my wife had moved to the Bronx, so I moved there, too. I went to work for the New York City Housing Authority in 1952.

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