As the New York City Housing Authority celebrated the two-year anniversary of its 10-year strategic plan, NextGeneration NYCHA, officials rolled out a series of digital upgrades for residents last Thursday at the Ravenswood Houses.
NYCHA general manager Michael Kelly joined tenants association president Carol Wilkins and community leaders to cut the ribbon on a new digital kiosk, which can be used to pay rent, place work orders and re-certify annual income.
Residents can also use it to learn about workforce development, apply for NYCHA jobs, and keep up with emergency information or outages.
More than 140 kiosks will be installed at nearly all of NYCHA’s public housing developments throughout the city. An additional 37 will go live in June, with the full roll out expected by September.
“You don’t necessarily have to be a computer genius to figure this stuff out,” Kelly said. “It’s a way of empowering residents. This is an opportunity for residents to feel they have more input.”
Kelly and Wilkins also toured one of NYCHA’s digital vans stationed in front of Ravenswood. The van features free Internet access, laptops and even a bilingual instructor. Residents can come in and look up their case numbers, the status of their work orders, and learn more details about the work.
The mobile van jumps around to different NYCHA developments, offering residents a window of opportunity to get connected to the web.
NYCHA workers also showed off their new handhelds, which every staff member is equipped with when managing work orders. Carmine Granata, who inspected Juanita Taveraz’s apartment last Thursday, ran through the procedure in just seven minutes.
He checked for carbon dioxide and smoke detectors, room and water temperature, and the condition of the tub, among other things. Previously, inspectors would write down their notes on paper, which they would need to later type into the computer.
With a digital handheld, Granata can check off boxes, take photos for evidence and obtain a digital signature quickly. He can also create the work order for the contractor or vendor and log notes as well.
“It’s faster and more efficient for tenants,” he said. “Papers won’t get lost.”
According to NYCHA, the authority closed 677,000 work orders using the smartphones, saving $1.2 million since the handheld’s deployment.
Since the launch of the MyNYCHA app, which residents can access on their smartphones, the agency has saved another $960,000.
All of these digital efforts are part of a broader approach to improve the lives of NYCHA residents, Kelly said.
“What we’ve done differently is reallocate our resources in a way that's more expensive to do this kind of capital investment now, but it pays dividends through the saving of operations,” he said. “This is an opportunity to invest in improvements now that would minimize our expenses into the future.”
Wilkins said it’s a great idea to get all residents up to speed on the latest technology.
“Everything is becoming digitalized and we all got to get on board with it,” she said. “I think it’s a little safer than having to fill out the paper.”
Although she recognized that seniors may be hesitant to use technology, the tenants association is sponsoring computer classes for seniors to adjust.
“Hopefully when this system comes, it’ll be easier,” she said. “They can come down here and use the kiosk and put in complaints.
“It’s just getting the seniors to know how to do it,” Wilkins added. “The resident association will really work with seniors to try to get them there.”
Wilkins said she looks forward to change, whether it’s the handhelds for staff or the digital kiosks.
“It’s either be left behind or change, that’s how it is,” she said. “Hopefully everyone will learn and go along with it.”
As NYCHA celebrates the two-year mark of its strategic plan, Kelly said it’s important that the housing agency continues to receive funding from the federal government. It has a $17 billion capital need, as issues like leaky roofs and malfunctioning elevators continue to plague tenants.
“There’s a relationship between capital improvements and the quality of their day-to-day life,” Kelly said. “That's why it’s important for us to look at ways we can actually continue to lobby for more federal funds.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed and doing as much outreach as we can to have these cuts not come into fruition,” he added about potential cuts to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
One example of how funding affects customer service is maintenance delivery times. Right now, the average length of time it takes for a work order to be complete is about four days. Kelly said if NYCHA loses funding, that can be delayed to 10 or 15 days. Problems then build up for residents.
For now, NYCHA is celebrating some of its achievements under the leadership of chair Shola Olatoye. In the last few years, the city’s largest landlord has increased rent collection by 3.2 percent, generating more than $2 million for repairs.
The agency has already created 50 new resident associations, made sure all developments recycle and have placed 5,663 residents with jobs. In terms of safety, NYCHA has installed 6,000 new lights at 16 developments and added 1,500 new CCTV cameras at 53 developments.
The city has also stepped in to fill some of the funding haps. Mayor Bill de Blasio committed $1.3 billion to fix more than 950 roofs citywide, will will benefit more than 175,000 residents. Sixty-seven roofs will be replaced by the end of this year, officials said.
Kelly said one of the biggest challenges for NYCHA moving forward is making sure the needs of public housing residents remain in the eyes of lawmakers and policymakers on the local, state and federal level.
“Two years of success for Next Generation NYCHA,” he said, “and it’s a good foundation moving forward.”
While NYCHA focuses on its capital needs and funding, officials are continuing to make improvements where necessary. At Ravenswood Houses, NYCHA workers are replacing two major steam distribution systems that provide heat and hot water for 13 buildings and 1,500 apartments.
Kelly said the construction will focus on the heating plant, which is similar to a boiler room, vertical risers that send steam up to radiators, and radiators themselves.
“We can fix one thing, but unless we fix all three things, then it’s still an issue,” he said.
The $1.4 million project is expected to be completed by November.
Oscar Esposito, the construction project manager, said despite the heavy traffic on 21st Street, the street will be fully opened this week.
“We’re looking at 100 percent completion and everything being back by October this year. In other words, ground restored and everything,” Esposito said. “But the distribution system itself, hopefully by September before the heating season begins.”