Disabled Man Waits Six Years for Proper Housing From NYCHA

untitled.jpgStephen Rex Brown Robert Campbell.

A handicapped resident of the Lillian Wald Houses says his apartment is in such a sorry state that it is literally killing him.

Robert Campbell is a burn victim who sleeps on a couch because his roughly 9-by-11-foot apartment doesn’t have room for an electric bed that would allow him to sleep on an incline, as ordered by doctors. He says odors from a dumpster beneath his 12th-floor studio hurt his lungs, which were severely damaged by an electrical fire in 1988. The blaze burned over 80 percent of his body and resulted in numerous surgeries and the amputation of fingers on his left hand. His doctors have implored the New York City Housing Authority to put him in a three-room apartment since 2003, because even the pilot light in Mr. Campbell’s oven hurts his skin.

“I just want to get in a proper apartment and have this nightmare be over with,” said Mr. Campbell, 58. “I’ve never lived like this before.”

Indeed, the conditions in Mr. Campbell’s apartment are striking. His refrigerator is nestled underneath a pile of belongings that reaches the ceiling and occupies one side of his apartment. He says he has nowhere else to put the assortment of stuff, and doesn’t want to get rid of it because he expects to be in a more spacious abode. His bathroom doesn’t have a sink. The toilet lid is broken in half and his coffee table is missing glass — both the result of Mr. Campbell passing out and smashing them. Two air filters constantly whir in the small apartment, which is surprisingly devoid of dust, despite the clutter. But still, Mr. Campbell has trouble breathing, and his doctor warned him not to use his oxygen machine close to the oven. But there is nowhere for him to go.

Since Mr. Campbell moved into the space in 2006, he has been on a wait list for a three-room apartment in the Lillian Wald Houses. But the New York City Housing Authority, which manages the property, says its hands are tied. According to the Authority, Mr. Campbell is on a list with 115 other people who want the same type of apartment — and some of the requests date back to 1987.

“Mr. Campbell’s medical condition does not necessarily entitle him to an expedited transfer,’” said a NYCHA spokeswoman. “The problem is that the Lillian Wald development has a very limited number of three-room apartments.”

Tower of stuffStephen Rex Brown The tower of belongings in Mr. Campbell’s apartment.

And it looks unlikely that Mr. Campbell’s housing dilemma will be solved any time soon. Facing grave budget shortfalls, NYCHA was able to fill only 9,000 of 106,000 work orders last year. In a recent blog post picked up by City Limits, the authority’s chairman raised the possibility of thousands of jobs being eliminated to cope with funding cutbacks.

But Wasim Lone, a housing advocate with Good Old Lower East Side, had little sympathy for NYCHA.

“They should put him up in Trump Tower while he waits for his transfer,” said Mr. Lone. “His medical needs are so urgent.”

Mr. Campbell’s condition is confirmed by numerous letters from plastic surgeons and burn victim specialists, who deride the conditions in his apartment and urge NYCHA to give him suitable accommodations.

“Presently, Mr. Campbell, who is handicapped from a severe burn, is living in hard conditions,” said Gregory Rauscher, a plastic surgeon, in a letter to NYCHA in 2009. “Mr. Campbell’s income is slightly over $700 a month. I find it intolerable that a reapplication is necessary for him to remain in the waiting list for a three-room apartment.” (Mr. Campbell must periodically send in forms reestablishing his place in line.)

Mr. Campbell said that the size of his apartment makes him ineligible for certain in-home care that his doctors have recommended for him.

“When I got the apartment and realized what it was I told them it wouldn’t work for me because it’s not accessible for the disabled,” said Mr. Campbell. “They told me they’d have it fixed in six months, and that became six years.”