Drew-Hamilton Houses Suffer Without Hot Water

Residents have not had hot water consistently over the last two months

Alice Walter wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to boil four pots of water. Her 23-year-old daughter walks across the street to shower at a friend’s house. Her 82-year-old neighbor gets up in the middle of the night to shower. All three live in the Drew-Hamilton Houses, a New York City Housing Authority development in Harlem where they have lived without consistent hot water for the last two months.

Walter and her neighbor were among around twenty Drew-Hamilton residents who met in Harlem Thursday night to vent their complaints about the lack of hot water to a NYCHA representative. According to Wayne Breamfield, president of the tenant association, which sponsored the meeting, the development usually runs on a five-tank boiler system that distributes hot water to Drew-Hamilton’s five buildings. In October, he said, two boilers have stopped working as a result of mechanical malfunction associated with normal wear and tear. That left the housing complex with just three working water boilers.

“Some families, they have to get their kids ready for school in the morning. They don’t want to have to get them ready in a cold shower or have to take a cold bath,” said Breamfield. “It’s frustrating…nobody should have to live like that.”

At the meeting, residents expressed their anger that the building management and NYCHA have allowed these conditions to continue so long without a solution. With the temperature already dropping to near freezing, tenants said they are frightened about the coming winter months. “We need our hot water,” said Nathalina Mcpherson, a Drew-Hamilton resident. “They say they’re going to fix it. They not doing nothing.”

At the meeting, numerous tenants described how daily activities like showering and cleaning have become a dreadful task. “Sometimes I have to wake up between 1 and 3 a.m. to shower,” Johnnie Hooks, Walter’s 82-year-old neighbor, said in an interview afterwards. That’s the time when she has the best chance at having hot water, she said.


Walter, 58, has lived in Drew-Hamilton since 1991. Her two daughters, ages 38 and 23, and a 4-year-old granddaughter live with her. Walter’s older daughter is disabled and, Walter, along with a home health aide, handles all aspects of her life, including bathing. She gets up at 4 a.m. to boil water, so she can bathe her daughter and granddaughter when they wake up.

Walters expressed concern that calling in or filing complaints about the situation has no impact or effect. She said she has filed 19 complaints with city authorities recently, but has seen no results.

NYCHA, which houses at least 400,000 people throughout New York City, has faced legal challenges recently over unsafe living conditions. The housing authority’s handling of lead paint exposure, maintenance issues, rodent infestation and mold inside its units have led to multiple lawsuits. NYCHA recently reached an agreement with federal prosecutors to bring in an independent monitor to ensure that NYCHA complies with all regulations. That agreement, known as a consent decree, was rejected by the federal judge overseeing the case on the basis of it being too vague to effect change.

In an interview after the meeting, Breamfield, the tenant association president, said housing management is searching for temporary fixes for the broken boilers and are in the process of securing funding to replace all five boilers. Boiler replacement is a NYCHA issue, and he couldn’t say how long it will take to fix the situation. He did say he wants “to get things fixed as soon as possible with winter approaching.” A NYCHA representative at the meeting noted the complaints, but said “no comment” when asked for a statement. The NYCHA press office did not respond to emails requesting comment.

Header photo: Drew-Hamilton Houses in Harlem. (The Ink/ Blake Ralling)