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NYCHA Residents In Harlem Forced To Deal With A Brutally Cold Night With No Heat Or Hot Water

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- With temperatures in the teens and single digits, thousands of New York City Housing Authority residents have had to ride out this week's bitter cold in their homes due to heating outages.

CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis spoke to some residents in one Harlem building who spent Monday night in an icebox.

Fortunately, the heat and hot water has since been restored, but those subjected to life without both described how hard it was to even sleep in such brutal conditions.

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The frozen fountain in Bryant Park summed up exactly how residents who live at Metro North Plaza felt during the overnight hours.

"The coldest two days we had no heat and hot water," resident Michelle McMath said. "We was cold. I had two blankets, my bathrobe, a sweater ... my grandson slept in a sweater."

Aguilar Bonilla took CBS2's DeAngelis inside his East Harlem apartment, which he said started to feel frigid around 8 p.m.

"Forget about it. I kept changing water, buckets, containers, anything to keep the place warm. It was unbelievable," Bonilla said.

NYCHA no heat
Some NYCHA residents were forced to boil water to stay warm during the Arctic plunge on Jan. 21-22. (Photo: CBS2)

He said his main concern was his elderly mother, who is diabetic.

"I thought she was gonna die on me. I thought she was gonna die," Bonilla said.

His neighbor had the same worries.

"My mother, she don't have no legs and I take care of her and it was really cold back there, so I had to put sheets ... started putting sheets on the windows and blankets," Miriam Leon said.

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NYCHA restored heat and hot water by Tuesday morning. The residents DeAngelis spoke to were among thousands in the city, who, over the past two frigid days, faced the same problem. However, the agency said it is improving its response time.

"Last year, we were restoring heat within 36 hours at this time as compared to this year, 10 hours," NYCHA CEO and general manager Vito Mustaciuolo told CBS2's Marcia Kramer on Monday.

Mustaciuolo gave CBS2 a tour inside NYCHA's customer complaint center, where it has added a new alert system and a heating specialist on nights and weekends.

"We're doing better with our staffing, so we've decided to hire up at a different staffing levels," Mustaciuolo said.

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But those who slept in the cold on Monday night said it's not enough.

"It's just crazy in here. (NYCHA) really needs to get it together," McMath said.

Judith Goldiner, an attorney with the Civil Law Reform Unit of the Legal Aid Society, released the following statement on the outages, which have impacted more than 7,000 people in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

"On the coldest week of the winter season, thousands of NYCHA residents -- seniors, children, and other vulnerable New Yorkers -- continue to suffer widespread heat and hot water outages. With every outage, NYCHA violates its legal obligation to seamlessly provide these utilities. To comply with the law, NYCHA -- serving as the landlord -- should issue abatements to tenants whose apartments are completely uninhabitable during this cold spell," Goldiner said, adding "Despite the mayor's 'Mission Accomplished' announcement last October touting improvements to boiler systems, it's abundantly clear, especially over the last few days, that NYCHA still has much work left to do."

NYCHA said it sent staff to Metro North Plaza on Tuesday morning to make sure residents were getting adequate heat. The agency also tried another new tactic Monday by opening 12 warming centers across the city so that residents with heat problems would have a place to go while the repairs were being made.

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