On a rainy Tuesday morning, Isiah Timmons woke early on the ninth floor of Coney Island Houses, less than a block away from the surf that flooded its lower floors a month ago. He grabbed a white protective suit, mask and goggles and walked two minutes to join his crew at Carey Gardens, a neighboring housing development.
Timmons is one of hundreds of workers hired by janitorial companies NYCHA has contracted to restore developments damaged in superstorm Sandy. Like him, many are NYCHA tenants.
Although many New Yorkers lost income because of the storm, the hard-hit NYCHA buildings already had an unemployment problem: A 2011 report by the Community Service Society estimated unemployment in public housing in 2010 reached 27 percent -- three times what it was in 2008.
Looking like an urban astronaut in the wan hallway light, Timmons, 21, spent the day checking for mold and scrubbing bathrooms. He was happy to help his neighbors, but was even happier to have a paycheck -- he'd been out of work for a year.
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Now, working seven days a week at $12.50 an hour, he hoped he could go back to school and pitch in for the rent his mother paid.
Brooklyn has the state's fourth-highest unemployment, 9.9 percent in October.
So for these workers, post-disaster cleanup has meant a long-awaited steady paycheck -- at least while it lasted.
‘Nothing but mold’
Along with more than 100 other teams of about 10 people each, Timmons and his crew have spent the last three weeks removing trash, cleaning common spaces and scrubbing mold and mildew in storm-damaged areas.
Tall and thin, Timmons wore goggles over his glasses and answered to his new nickname, “Slim.” A supervisor called him over to clean a bathroom in a seventh-floor unit that a young couple shared with two cats.
“It’s like nothing but mold everywhere,” he said. He sprayed the black fungus with blue fluid and scrubbed for half an hour, but the contamination had gotten inside the ceiling.