Eight women, bundled in heavy coats, mufflers and gloves, sat in Oarolyn Mitchell's frigid Lincoln Heights apartment admitted that they had gone for weeks without bathing.
Mitchell's radiators gave no heat, but a slight warmth came from the bled neighbors said it had been that gas oven in her kitchen. Her assemway throughout the Far Northeast public housing complex since November.
Some of the women said they habitually slept in coarse outerwear, and even then were wearing their night-clothes under the thick layers.
"You lay in the bed and its like being outdoors. You just siver until you go to sleep," Mitchell said. Seven voices chorused in agreement.
"I have to go all the way to Southeast to take a bath," because the 30-year-old complex is often without hot water, too, tenant Hattie Morgan said.
Morgan was one of several tenants who made the same complaints two years ago during a visit by City Councilwoman Willie J. Hardy. Hardy said then that she was "shocked, disgusted and hurt" at their plight.
Lincoln Heights, located at the end of 50th Place NE, is one of the most persistently troublesome complexes among the 11,700 public housing units run by the Department of Housing and Community Development, an official said yesterday.
Monteria Ivery, DHCD property management administrator, said the only reason the six three-story buildings are maintained is that "we don't have anywhere to put the 600 families" who live there.
Ivey said the complex's heating and hot water problems have been sporadic, but the women in Mitchell's living room insist the deficiencies are constant.
"Just because this is a project, they expect us to live out here like snakes and pigs." Barbara McDougal said. With anger and some laughter, the women told of coping by piling all their children in bed with them, sleeping in socks and sponge bathing at work.
Like tenants in other public housing complexes, they have made almost constant use of gas ovens and electric space heaters, to make up for faulty or nonexistent heating. Ivery said DHCD would seek funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to refund tenants for the extra utility expenses this harsh winter is costing them.
As for Lincoln Heights. Ivey said DHCD has hired a consultant to figure out what is wrong with the underground heating and hot water pipes. "If we can only get through this season," he said.