NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- On what was an unseasonably cold Thursday in March, the New York City Housing Authority embarked on the first phase of a $1 billion plan to replace aging boilers that have left tens of thousands shivering in the homes.
CBS2's Marcia Kramer got an exclusive look at the toll years of neglect have taken on heating systems in public housing.
One look at the boilers that provide heat and hot water to the 3,100 residents of the Taft Houses in East Harlem gives you new respect for the NYCHA workers who have somehow managed to reduce the number of heat outages from 26 last winter to 11 so far this winter.
The boilers are 32 years old, well past their 20-to-25-year life expectancy, and falling apart. They are so old, they've been patched and patched and patched again. You can see the welds, but the welds have been there so long even they have rusted over.
They are so old that they leak and workers save shelves of rusted out replacements parts, just in case.
When told by CBS2's Kramer that the parts don't look like they could fix anything, NYCHA general manager Vito Mustaciulo said, "They've been cleaned. They are the ones that are in the best repair, the best condition."
Mustaciulo gave Kramer a tour of the boiler room that provides heat and hot water to the 10 buildings of the Taft Houses because it has been selected as one of 11 developments that, starting this year, will get new heating systems.
It will take several years to replace the Taft system. A mobile heating system will take over during construction.
"People think that when there's no heat you can run to Home Depot or Lowe's, buy a new boiler, go home and install it. This is not a Home Depot installation," Mustaciulo said.
And while aging boiler rooms continue to make providing heat and hot water to NYCHA's 400,000 residents a challenge, the recent agreement with the federal government means money for all kinds of repairs is starting to flow. Mustaciulo said it comes with a message to the long-suffering residents.
"I hope they see this as a sign that we are changing, that NYCHA is committed to making improvements," he said.
Residents can't wait.
"It will be very changed not putting on all those clothes and feel much more comfortable," Taft Houses resident Brenda Mohammed said.
"Actually make me feel better, have hot water. I'll actually have a warmer house, right on," Kelvin Santana said.
"Maybe there will be consistent heat and hot water, not sporadic like it is now," Elba Diaz added. "Nobody should be cold in the winter."
This is just the first phase of a five-year plan to replace about half of the NYCHA's worst boilers. Officials are still seeking money to fix the rest.
Mustaciulo told Kramer he is confident that buildings that get the new boilers will not suffer outages for decades.
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