A New Perspective: Everyday Work in NYC Housing

New York City Housing Developments are a subject that is often discussed for their bad reputation, but how well does the public know what goes on, on a daily basis? Life working in NYC housing- exposed by a NYCHA carpenter. 


A frequent topic in the news, New York City Housing Developments- also known as the projects- are a spectacle that have earned reputations for crime, drugs and substandard living situations for many families.

These developments are managed by New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

According to NYCHA, 1 in 14 New Yorkers live in the 326 developments located throughout the five boroughs.

Brendan McCullagh has been a NYCHA employee for nearly ten years, and has worked in approximately 20 different developments. Currently assigned to the a development located in Harlem, this NYCHA carpenter offers a unique inside-view of life in the NYC housing.


Photo of the Clinton Housing Developments, photo from NYCHA city-data.com

As a NYCHA carpenter, Brendan is assigned tasks such as hanging doors, replacing kitchen cabinets, and fixing bath enclosures. Most of his work is finish carpentry that is completed inside the homes of tenants.

1-2 carpenters are assigned to each development, depending on size. They are able to receive help from other NYCHA carpenters if a job requires an extra pair of hands.

While carpenters are inside the apartments, tenants must be present. When asked if he ever feels in danger working inside the homes, Brendan disclosed that while he never feels threatened, but it can often be uncomfortable.

“There are very few clean apartments. Most of the tenants seem not to know how to clean properly. Don’t get me wrong, there are some people that keep their places spotless- today I was in an apartment you could have eaten off the floor in. But most of the apartments are filthy, and sometimes it is so bad you can’t even get the job done.”

Brendan recalled a situation in which he needed to replace drywall in the ceiling of a hoarder’s apartment. With 4 feet of her belongings covering the entire apartment, it was impossible for him to get his work done. He had to continuously ask her to move things around and ultimately could not properly work in the condition of her apartment.


Photos from Brendan’s workshop, where he prepares for each job.


In general, Brendan believes tenants are looked after for the usual issues that arise. But in regards to some the infrastructure of the buildings, the work ethic of some NYCHA employees, and effects of the infrastructure of NYCHA, there are needs that aren’t being met.

Nearly every building is unstable, with deteriorating plumbing at the center of the issue. This has caused a lot of water damage to walls, cabinets and has ultimately caused many of the walls to rot, and mold to spread rapidly.

The plumbing that causes all of this water damage is the reason for much of the work that Brendan does on a day-to-day basis. Replacing cabinets that have rotten due to water, and re-plastering ceilings and walls because they are soaking through.

“Good enough for housing” is a phrase that infuriates Brendan, but is commonly used among his fellow NYCHA carpenters. This remark is a reminder of the lack of concern for the living conditions of people in public housing.

In October, after ripping out an entire kitchen in which the wood was rotting, Brendan hurt his back and was ordered not to return to work for three months by a doctor.

When he returned, he found complaints filed by the woman that she was still without a working sink. She was without a sink or kitchen cabinets all through Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This is unfortunately very common, because the administration does not sequence jobs properly. Many people have been left without functioning kitchens or bathrooms for months.

While these instances are unfortunate and affect the lives of people living in NYCHA developments, Brendan disclosed that the dysfunction of the organization trickles down from the top.


The official NYCHA logo.

Bill De Blasio, the Mayor of NYC and NYCHA CEO, Oyeshola “Shola” Olatoye are at the very top of the NYCHA chain of command.

Brendan feels that within the NYCHA administration, no one takes responsibility for the issues that arise. They get shuffled around and problems remain unsolved.

Recently there was a case in the news, in which mom Tiesha Jones, was awarded $57 Million dollars for lead poisoning that has caused severe mental affects in her daughter.

NYCHA then spent over half a million on classes for all of the carpenters to take so they could become trained for recognizing lead paint, but they are not given materials to run tests on paint samples.

This was a way for NYCHA to cover themselves and say that they have addressed the issue of the law suite. But in reality, it is just another way that New York City Housing is not taking full responsibility, or directly solving issues within the organization.