For months, her bathroom did not have a sink, forcing her to brush her teeth in the kitchen. There were light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. Her apartment had mold and peeling paint.
Marston didn’t even want her grandchildren to come over to play because she was afraid they would touch the walls.
In June, Marston, with the help of local advocates and political candidates, finally got the repairs she asked for. A few weeks later, her niece saw a NYCHA employee sliding a letter under her front door.
The notice, dated July 8, accused Marston of violating part of her lease. It also claimed that she or someone in her household “displayed behaviors that have disturbed or endangered other NYCHA residents,” checking off the “non-desirability” box.
Last Thursday, Marston, along with advocates and supporters, rallied in front of the Queensbridge South management office to denounce the letter, which they called an intimidation tactic.
“I’ve been here for 34 years,” Marston said. “How did I just become undesirable?”
She said she believes the notice, which asked her to meet with the property manager to discuss the matter before NYCHA takes further action, was related to complaints about the lack of repairs.
“This is what happens, they send you threatening letters or call you in. They dig in your files and find something,” Marston said. “But why are you digging in my files? Because I complained, that’s why.”
Joycelyn Taylor, a 2021 mayoral candidate, was among those who joined Marston when she first approached the Queensbridge management office about her repairs. She said she also believes the complaint and the notice were linked.
“What’s undesirable is that people have to live in those conditions,” said Taylor, who also grew up in public housing. “What’s undesirable is that people have to fight for their basic rights.”
In a statement, NYCHA chief communications officer Barbara Brancaccio said repairs to Marston’s apartment were made in June. She said Marston was not advised about the violation of her lease until July.
“There is no connection between repairs to this apartment and this tenant being called in to discuss her son’s arrest with the manager,” Brancaccio said. “No administrative action has yet been taken.”
Suga Ray, a local activist and City Council candidate who is also Marston’s son, said the statement was referring to his brother’s arrest last year. But Ray said NYCHA knew about the arrest and did not send her the notice until now.
“The fact that they’re sending it now has something to do with [the complaint],” he said. “If it was about the arrest, they would’ve sent the letter a year ago.”
At the rally last Thursday, other Queensbridge residents brought attention to a host of other problems in their homes, like mildew, roaches and cracks in the walls.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, holding a list of conditions compiled by the Justice for All Coalition, demanded that NYCHA make basic repairs for apartments at Queensbridge and other public housing developments.
In a letter to NYCHA chairman Gregory Russ, Maloney notes that NYCHA has a $31.8 billion worth of capital backlog across nearly 2,500 buildings.
“This means that tenants often have to wait months –– if not years –– for maintenance requests to be fulfilled,” she wrote.
She added that NYCHA receives nearly $2.3 billion a year from the federal government, including $300 million for its capital program. She asked for a full accounting of where that money goes.
“Despite this support, I continue to hear from my constituents who live in NYCHA housing that they cannot get their maintenance requests fulfilled in a timely manner,” Maloney wrote. “This is unacceptable.”
Brancaccio said in a statement that NYCHA has received Maloney’s letter and has already reached out to her office to discuss the issue.
Stan Morse, lead organizer for the Justice for All Coalition, said the group intends to come back to the management office on a regular basis until they make the necessary repairs at Queensbridge, Ravenswood, Astoria and other public housing developments.
“This is what we have to do,” he said. “If they’re not going to do the work for us, we’ve got to be in their faces so much that they get tired of seeing us, and then they do the work.
“People have a right to a decent place to live, especially during COVID-19,” Morse added. “You’ve got people living in terrible conditions and we’re supposed to be quarantined. How do you quarantine in a house or apartment that’s falling down around you?”
Ray, who also lives in Queensbridge, said it’s up to the tenants to demand that NYCHA fixes public housing.
“Make them uncomfortable until we are comfortable,” he said.