A New York City organization is working to make sure that those living in NYCHA housing developments are getting the necessary apartment repairs and upgrades they need.
PACT Renaissance Collaborative (PRC) is a joint partnership of not-for-profit and for-profit entities that was selected by NYCHA to conduct repairs and capital improvements at 16 NYCHA developments in Manhattan.
In each apartment, PRC completely renovates the interiors, upgrading the kitchen with new cabinets, counters, and appliances, new bathroom fixtures, new doors and windows, and new flooring throughout the entire apartment. Each apartment can be completely renovated in 12-15 days. Also, part of the project is upgrading community spaces in the building, including updating elevators, heating and other mechanical systems, updating the roof and building facades, designing landscaping, playgrounds and community facilities, and enhancing security measures in the building.
Currently, the project is being implemented at 40 buildings across the borough, with the project expected to be fully completed in the spring of 2023.
Melinda Pizzaro has been the tenant liaison for PRC for the past year. As a child, her parents worked long hours and she and her siblings often spent time with her grandmother, who lived in a NYCHA development on 103rd Street. After being out of work due to COVID, Pizzaro wanted to make her next job something more meaningful.
“One day I got a call from a friend, she said send me your resume and I ended up here. The universe heard me, God heard me, I wanted something that was going to be impactful in people’s lives,” said Pizzaro.
As the tenant liaison, Pizzaro has worked tirelessly to make sure their living spaces are livable for years to come.
“What we do is bring up the community from what we had before. A lot of it is outdated, a lot of it is getting dingy and stuff, so we’re making it look fresh, giving people the opportunity to have a nice apartment like they live in a nice neighborhood,” said Pizzaro. “We’re kinda bringing up the neighborhood and it starts from the insides, not just the outsides. What comes from the inside reflects the streets, so we feel like cleaning up the apartments, cleaning up the buildings give people the opportunity to be in something different than that kind of dull looking old school apartments.”
Pizzaro acknowledges that a lot of these repairs that are being made are very long overdue. However, sometimes it’s hard to get access to these apartments, particularly for those residents who are living with mental illness.
“Some tenants have mental illnesses so it’s hard to get access to do renovations and do basic repairs. Our team is basically the face of tenants getting comfortable, walking them through the process, and holding their hands because it’s a lot,” said Pizzaro. “You’re gonna have 12 days where it’s 40 people coming in and out of your house and you’re going to be like what the heck, but in 12 days we’re going to give you something completely new.”
Pizzaro says that residents often get very excited to see the progress of the apartments. Sometimes residents are hesitant initially because they are afraid of being priced out of the neighborhood.
“Some residents are nervous because they [ask], ‘Are you privatizing us and taking us out?’ And I’m saying no, we want you to stay here. That’s what our job is, to reaffirm that we’re just trying to fix the apartment. Things happen over time, so we come in and fix it for them,” said Pizzaro.
In just over 18 months, PRC has been able to renovate and repair 1,200 apartments for 3,000 residents, with Pizzaro personally having worked on 300 so far. Tenants are able to stay in their apartments throughout the duration of the repairs, but for those that need extensive repairs, PRC puts them up in a fully renovated apartment for the time being.
“We have a hospitality suite [for those still living in their apartment] where they can hang out because it gets really noisy, and a lot of traffic, they go and hang out. They usually have a TV and WiFi, a fridge,” said Pizzaro. “Some tenants are quicker, and some have been here longer. We accommodate, some have been in their apartments for so long, they have the little things that they’ve done, we work our hardest to accommodate as best we can.”
Maria Vasquez has lived in her Washington Heights apartment for over 40 years. Her home was long overdue for some upgrades, and has had problems getting repairs done.
“You’ve seen the news, we have a lot of problems with painting and public housing. They say they have no money, before it took more time for repairs,” said Vasquez.
With the help of PRC, Vasquez was able to have her apartment become completely handicap-accessible while giving it a fresh new look. On top of a fresh coat of paint and getting all of the structural and electrical components up to code, she was given a lot more closet space that was built in her bedroom, and the bathroom was expanded and upgraded.
“I was very hopeful that one day this building and all the buildings around us were going to be renovated. I had that faith, I don’t know why but I had that faith. And now I see it is a reality,” said Vasquez. “This building has been bettered in many ways.”
For Pizzaro, seeing the faces of residents after their homes get renovated makes all the work pay off.
“If you see some of the things we walk in through and then walk out, like the tenants that were hesitant and are kinda feeling like ‘I don’t want you in my apartment,’ seeing those faces is what I look forward to,” said Pizzaro.
PRC has been chugging along on upgrading the apartments, but Pizzaro is committed to making sure that community spaces are taken care of as well.
“Right now, after the interiors are done, we’re working on community areas. There’s the laundry room, there’s a daycare here that we’re going to work on. It’s not just the apartments, it’s the community being lifted up,” said Pizzaro.
For more information about PRC, visit www.pactrenaissance.com.
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.