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When Pomonok Houses resident Shirley Berenguel puts her three children to bed, she wraps them in sweaters and tucks them in under mounds of blankets to ward off the cold she said has made life nearly unbearable this winter.
“It’s freezing here every night,” Berenguel said of her apartment just off Kissena Boulevard. “It’s like you’re sleeping in the park. My children are getting sick because of the cold. I’m afraid to get my 3-month-old her shots because I’m afraid she’ll get too sick in the cold with a fever from the shots. I don’t want to have to bury my children.”
Berenguel was one of a number of Pomonok residents who said the heat has been turned off in their apartments after 11 p.m. each night this winter and returns after 6 a.m.
The New York City Housing Authority said the organization that owns Pomonok Houses disputed her claim.
A NYCHA spokeswoman said the group “does not turn off heat, but sets boilers to adjust to external temperatures.” Apartments remain at 55 degrees when the temperature dips below 40 degrees at night, according to the official.
Pomonok Residents Association President Monica Corbett also said NYCHA does not shut off the heat in the buildings, although she said the housing complex does have “heating problems.”
“Our boilers have not been upgraded since 1982,” said Corbett, who does not live in Berenguel’s building. “We’re slated to get new boilers in 2011.”
City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said his office has received a barrage of complaints from Pomonok residents this winter because of heating issues, and he said two boilers recently failed, leaving residents with no or little heat. After Gennaro met with Housing Authority administrators, the boilers were fixed, but the councilman is advocating for the equipment to soon be replaced.
“The complaints were instances of no heat, instances of insufficient heat, and intermittent heat,” Gennaro said. “All of these are unacceptable, and there’s no option other than get the boilers fixed and get them replaced.”
Berenguel said she believes temperatures inside her first-floor apartment at 64-21 Kissena Blvd. have dipped dangerously low.
She is especially concerned about the health of her 11-year-old son, who has seizures, and her 6-year-old son, who is anemic.
Berenguel was the only tenant who would give her name when interviewed — others said they feared retaliation from city officials if they spoke out.
“Everyone’s heat is getting shut down in the building,” Berenguel said.
A resident who goes by the name of Marisol said her arthritis has become worse when the cold sets in at night. Marisol has lived in Pomonok for about 19 years and said this year has been the only winter when the Housing Authority has completely shut off the heat at night.
“I’m really suffering,” Marisol said.
A resident on the second floor of the building reiterated Marisol’s and Berenguel’s sentiments.
“I’d use a space heater, but you always hear about all the fires that happen because of them,” the resident said. “It really gets so cold that you wake up and can’t go back to sleep. You just sit there, because you don’t want to get out of the bed, which is the warmest place in the apartment. I wish I had more money so I could move out of here.”
Berenguel said she has called NYCHA’s emergency number to complain about the heat at least 10 times this winter.
“They tell me there’s no money for the heat,” she said.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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