Cooking without gas: NYCHA building in Manhattan hit with yet another gas outage, and nobody knows when it’ll be fixed

Imagine cooking every breakfast, lunch and dinner on a hot plate for seven months. That’s what residents at the Grant Houses in Morningside Heights are facing after being hit with another gas outage in less than two years.

This time, NYCHA told residents who live in Building 3 that they could be cooking without gas until late July thanks to the service disruption.

“I had made breakfast and lunch and around three o’clock, I noticed that the gas stove wasn’t turning on,” said Roxana Gonzalez-Martinez, a Building 3 tenant. “I said, ‘Okay, this, something’s off.’ I don’t know what’s going on.”

Roughly 226 apartments in one of the nine Grant Houses buildings are impacted by the outage. NYCHA says the gas outage was caused by a major leak on an underground gas main to the building. Con Edison is planning to install new service once NYCHA completes work on site. 

Gonzalez-Martinez, her husband, and their 2 1/2-year old son son live together in a three-bedroom apartment in Building 3 at the Grant Houses. Her husband has lived in the Grant Houses for around 36 years — his entire life. He’s been around long enough to know what it means when NYCHA hands out hot plates.

“He said, ‘They don’t give out hot plates, unless it’s gonna be a while,’” Gonzalez-Martinez said.

Besides the three meals she cooks for her family every day, the gas outage will also impact one of Gonzalez-Martinez’s main side hustles: her pastry business. She said she could easily lose hundreds of dollars if the gas isn’t back until late July. 

“It takes me twice as long to bake brownies and twice as long to make cookies,” Gonzalez-Martinez said. “It’s a little mini oven here versus actual gas stove. It’s just nearly impossible to bake. So I can’t test recipes. I can’t sell.”

A hot plate distributed to Grant Houses tenants during a prolonged gas outage on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. Photo by Sarah Belle Lin.

After meeting with NYCHA, Viilorii Thornton, the Grant Houses Tenants Association President, said the new turn-on date will be earlier than July.

“They don’t project right now that it will take until July,” Thornton said. “That was something that was kind of rushed: the estimate time. So as of right now, they don’t know the exact time of when it will be done, but they’re hoping that it will it will be done before July.”

At a meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 25, tenants packed Building 3’s lobby to hear updates from NYCHA Deputy Chief Operating Officer Marvin Walton, NYCHA neighborhood administrator Anthony Dingle, Councilmember Shaun Abreu (D-Manhattan), and a Con Edison representative. The meeting was the first of weekly meetings providing updates for residents.

“ConEd started working on the excavation a few days ago and then DDS will come to restore gas,” Dingle said at the meeting. 

Despite repeated inquiries, there was no certain time frame given for when the gas will be switched back on provided for the tenants. The original projected date of July 31 was apparently a misprint, NYCHA told residents at the meeting. The reason given was that safety protocols need to be first met. 

“Even if that were true, it’s very possible that they would have never corrected it and still allowed themselves those six-plus months to address the issues instead of making it a priority,” Gonzalez-Martinez said.

NYCHA meeting updating tenants on the gas outage at Grant Houses on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Photo courtesy of Roxana Gonzalez-Martinez.

Gas is the most reported service disruptions on NYCHA’s utility outages page. As of 3 p.m. Jan. 26, there were 59 reported gas outages, with the Grant House outage reported on Jan. 9. Most of the NYCHA outages are in Brooklyn and the Bronx. 

“NYCHA knocked on all apartments to give hot plates,” Thornton said. “If they were not home, they were informed to go to the management office to get them. When they come home after the rent office was closed, that was a problem.”

Thornton said slow cookers are also available from the the management office. Tenants can now pick up hot plates or slow cookers later in the evening on Wednesday nights. Local food pantries, including MEANS Database, are also mobilizing to provide groceries for tenants. MEANS Database will start delivering next Monday around the afternoon, Jan. 30 and they’re providing 200 hot meals each day, that will include meat, rice, and vegetables.

“It’s going to be a hardship,” Thornton said. “I’m trying to see if I can even get them toaster ovens. But then you start pulling too much electricity then we have an issue as well. It’s a situation that’s not fair on either end.”

Thornton said that she believes NYCHA is recognizing that the Grant Houses community needs help. She’s also been through her share of gas outages as a Grant Houses resident. 

“This is not a first when it comes to gas outages,” Thornton said. “I’ve had three in my building alone. If the gas goes out, it’s not going to be on the next day. They have to go through all 21 floors, make sure there’s no leaks. Make sure that the building is safe. It’s inconvenient, yes, but it’s also for your safety.”

Gonzalez-Martinez passed along a message to NYCHA: “Don’t neglect us. We deserve to have things fixed. We deserve to be noticed as people who deserve a space that is livable.”

“We’re not going to let them prolong it,” Thornton said. “We’re not going to let them forget about it. I’m going to make sure they’re on the ground every single day trying to address this issue.”

The gas outage posted at the NYCHA Grant Houses was inconsistent, with some notices stating “TBD” and others “July 31” for its projected reactivation.Photo by Sarah Belle Lin.