I've been working for the New York City Housing Authority for eleven years. During that time I have seen countless jobs done by electrical contractors that consisted of gross electrical code violations and were accompanied by exorbitant fees. To date we, the trades, have to constantly work behind the contractors due to poor workmanship on their part.
Housing Authority has a policy that allows individual Houses to hire contractors to do work that is too large for us. The contractors are hired through a process called "C for P", Certificate for Purchase. Through this process the House does not have to obtain three bids, but the job must cost less than $1000.00, unless an emergency situation exists. There are several problems with this approach:
- 1. The contractor does not have to return to fix a problem with her/his work.
- 2. The contractor can attach a hefty price to the work that is about to be performed citing additional problems that may occur during the course of the job.
- 3. The people who are responsible for hiring the contractors may not have the knowledge to determine the extent of the work that is necessary to successfully satisfy the job.
- 4. The same people may not be in a position to ascertain whether or not the contractor's license is valid.
- 5. Who insures that the contractor is using the prevailing wage law to estimate the job, and are they paying the people that work for them the prevailing rates?
- 6. Because there is no contract to cover these jobs, the work is not inspected by a competent inspector Actually most of the contracted jobs in Housing are not inspected by competent inspectors that are well versed in the field that they are inspecting.
- 7. There is no contract.
- 8. On many occasions a big job, one that costs more than $1000.00 and is not deemed an emergency, the House pays the contractor by utilizing the C for P process as many times as it takes to pay for the full contract. All the C for P payments are $999.00 or less.
This is the perfect environment in which corruption could thrive. Who keeps track of the work and the payment? The management of a particular House could hire a friend to perform the work. And this same individual could allow for an overpayment, based on "additional problems that might occur during the course of the job". Who would know if that individual did not get a kickback for awarding the contractor the job?
Who suffers in all this? The tenants, because we, the trades, are so busy correcting the contractor's errors, the tenants are not getting the services they so desperately need. The Housing employees also suffer. Consider this...an electrician does work in an elevator motor room, on the roof. Now she/he is not aware that an exhaust fan and the associated equipment, which was installed previously by a contractor, was not properly grounded. Contractors do this for one of two reasons. Either the contractor is cutting the cost or the contractor does not understand electrical theory and the importance of grounding. A voltage of 95 VAC (Volts AC) exists between the work and any grounded object in the motor room. Not realizing this the worker comes in contact with both surfaces and receives a surprise.
When you're not aware of the circumstances you're working under it's exactly that, a surprise.
The shock hurts. It sends the electrician, reeling, into the exposed motor and pulley-cable system that raises and lowers the elevator, where the worker could have sustained a serious injury.
Here is another example.
A contractor was called upon to install an electric riser for a blind tenant. The electricity was used to power an electric range. The contractor used 3/4 inch electrical metallic tubing (EMT) as the wiring method. The run of EMT was one hundred feet. The conductor size was a # 10 AWG (American Wire Gauge) stranded. The current rating of the electric range is 30 Amps. The wire size is correct to carry 30 Amps, but not large enough to prevent a voltage drop that would occur because of the length of the run. The EMT should not have been used for that application. The correct choice would have been the use of threaded rigid galvanized conduit. It's harder to work with, but is a necessity in this type of environment. The use of EMT presents a safety hazard to the tenants in the apartments through which the electric riser passes because it can be damaged too easily. The box used to enclose the 50 Amp receptacle in the tenant's apartment was too small. This mistake could cause a short circuit to occur in the outlet box and could prove to be a danger to the tenant(s). The equipment ground for the range was installed improperly creating another safety hazard for the tenant(s). And the source of power for this poorly done job was taken from a designated power source: the feed for the compactor. All this cost the Housing Authority $4000.00. Definitely too much. The work was paid for with a C for P. No call back. Another question is brought to mind. Was the contractor the only recipient of this money?
We, the electricians, could not straighten out all the problems with this job. Management felt that as long as the electric range works nothing else matters. Besides we have so much other work in Housing that we could only do this job on overtime over the weekend.
The general feeling in Housing is get the contractors to do the job. If there is anything wrong with it, have the trade's people that work for Housing resolve the problems. Allow me to reiterate. There is so much work in the Housing Authority that we don't need the added burden of straightening out the contractor's errors.
Another major concern for me is question of corruption. A large Agency such as Housing Authority needs an independent watchdog committee, that is unavailable to the contractors or the management of the Housing Authority, to oversee its' transactions with contractors.
And maybe then Housing can live up to its' motto: safe and affordable housing for low-income families...