Heat and plumbing: Key 311 complaints for the Bronx

The new 311 map displays calls by community board

Kingsbridge Heights and Norwood lead the borough with the most calls made

By Manuel Rueda

Bronx residents call 311 to complain more about plumbing and heating issues than anything else, according to an analysis of the latest numbers released by the city last week.

For the first time since 2003 when the city launched the 311 hotline, New Yorkers can pinpoint what 311 callers are complaining about—by borough, zip code, community board, even buildings and streets—on a colorful interactive, online map.

Until recently, the city just used tables to show what type of complaints New Yorkers made and where the 60,000 daily calls originated.

Through a brief analysis of the City’s 311 Online Request Map, we found that Bronx residents frequently called 311 over the last three months to report housing problems, such as bad plumbing or lack of heat. But during the same period, Bronxites filed few complaints about environmental problems like air quality.

Residents of Community District 7, an area that includes Norwood and Kingsbridge Heights, made the most calls of any other district in the borough with 3,946 complaints filed over the past three months. According to the map, 839 of these calls related to heating, while more than 1,000 had to do with plumbing issues, such as leaks.

In other low-income areas of the Bronx, complaints related to tenants’ rights numbered in the hundreds, but were significantly lower than those made in Community District 7.

Residents of Community District 9 in the eastern Bronx made 438 heating

The 311 Call Center in Midtown (Courtesy DoITT)

complaints, while Community District 2 which includes Huntspoint and Longwood, only made 221 heating requests.

Greg Faulkner, a former chairman of Community District Board 7, and currently the chief of staff for City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, says the high numbers of housing complaints in his district reflect a struggle between low income tenants living in  buildings with housing problems and landlords who are unwilling or unable to guarantee basic living conditions. But he also sees the high number of complaints in CB7 as a sign that people in this part of town are learning to call the city and elected officials.

Sergio Cuevas, a tenants’ rights organizer chuckled with satisfaction when he heard about the high number of complaints coming from the northwest Bronx.

Cuevas lives in 3018 Heath avenue, one of ten dilapidated buildings recently acquired by real estate impresario Steve Finkelstein.

He is part of a group of community organizers that encourages people in these buildings to call 311 and hands out 311 flyers to fellow tenants. For Cuevas these calls are a first step towards putting landlords on the city’s watch-list.

“People are basically lazy sometimes. They get frustrated and they don’t understand they have to call 311,” he says. “They cannot fathom ten minutes of their time doing this.”

Cuevas claims 311 calls have helped some tenants to get housing problems fixed and sometimes calls on behalf of people, who don’t understand how to use the touchtone system.

Environmental issues on the other hand don’t seem to be as pressing an issue for Bronx 311 callers. According to the interactive map, residents of the Bronx have filed less than 50 complaints on indoor air quality since November.

Indoor air quality complaints include lack of ventilation in a building, or bad air quality due to construction, renovation or the use of chemicals.

The number of outdoor air quality complaints, including concerns over car fumes, dust from a construction site, soot or pollution, is even lower. Only one outdoor air quality complaint was registered in the entire borough over the past three months.

Miquela Craylor director of the environmental group Sustainable South Bronx, says local residents are not filing air quality complaints because they don’t understand that they have a right to fresh air. She also believes many are so frustrated with pollution and the response of local government that they don’t bother to complain.

“There’s awareness about the problem when you talk to people in the streets” she says. “But there’s a feeling there’s not much we can do to change it, a sense that this is what happens because we’re poor.”

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