Nelida Cintrón, 80, has been waiting 15 years to hear from NYCHA about her application. (PHOTO/Rafael Escalera Montoto)

QUEENS — After years of meetings, application renewals and stress, Nelida Cintrón and her family thought
the wait was over.

The family had traveled to a meeting with officials from the New York City Public Housing
Authority for what they thought was the final step before finally moving into a three-bedroom
apartment in NYCHA’s Queensbridge North houses in Long Island City that they had been
waiting to get for more than seven years.

Cintrón was accompanied by her grandson and her granddaughter — who were slated to live
with her. There was only one person missing whose name appeared on the NYCHA application,
and whose absence was a fresh source of pain for everyone present: Lizbeth, Cintrón’s
daughter, who died of a stomach condition just months before the appointment.

“They were going to show us the apartment,” said Christopher Velez, 34, Cintron’s grandson
and Lizbeth’s son. “We were all ready to sign papers and move.”

Then, Velez said, the NYCHA official “asked about my mom and I explained it to her. And she
told me, ‘your mom has to be here. If she’s not here, she [Cintrón] has to do it again.”

Lizbeth (top) with her daughter Nelizbeth (bottom) and her son Christopher (center), circa 1990. (PHOTO/Courtesy Nelida Cintrón)

They were no longer eligible for the unit in Long Island City. Their housing application would
have to start from scratch. Their seven-year-wait had been in vain.

That was eight years ago. Cintrón, now 80, has been on a waitlist for NYCHA housing since she
was 65 — a decade-and-a-half span long enough to lose a child, welcome a great grandchild,
and suffer a stroke.

“[NYCHA] said ‘don’t worry, we’re gonna call her quickly’ — I’m still waiting,” said Cintrón — or
Nelly, as she’s known to her family.

‘Typical For Family Composition Changes’

Cintrón is a native of Naranjito, a mountain town in Puerto Rico, and now lives in a two-
bedroom apartment in Glendale Queens, with her granddaughter and great-grandson, almost 2
years old. Relatives said they are struggling to maintain their housing — which costs $1,850 a
month — using her granddaughter’s salary and what is left of Cintrón’s savings.

Michael Horgan, a spokesman for NYCHA, said of Cintrón’s case, “In order to be matched with
an available apartment, it is critical that applicants keep their information up-to-date.”

“Because of the applicant’s most recent change in family composition, the application is
currently under reevaluation — which is typical for family composition changes — in
anticipation of being returned to the certified waitlist,” Horgan added.

According to Horgan, there are currently around 240,000 people waiting for their applications
to be processed. The agency assigns between 3,000 and 4,000 apartments to new residents
each year. Depending on the circumstances, the wait times can vary significantly, he said.

One of the challenges to rapid turnover is the time it takes to prepare an apartment for new
occupants. The city has cited factors such as renovations that many units require. According to NYCHA figures, the average number of days to turn around vacant apartments was 260 at the
end of 2022. By the end of 2023, that figure sat at 412, almost 60% higher than in 2022.

‘Don’t Wait Until She Dies Too’

Nieves Padilla, a friend of Cintrón’s, has helped her navigate the application process, even
tagging along to an appellate meeting at NYCHA’s Downtown Brooklyn offices after the family
was turned away.

She has also been providing support as Cintrón has had to continue to fill out rounds of NYCHA
paperwork including application renewal documents that NYCHA requires applicants fill out
once every year or two.

Cintrón said she does not understand why she had to start the application process from scratch
again if, at the point of Lizbeth’s death in 2017, she had already been waiting for eight years.

Nelida Cintrón, seen here on her wedding day, was 65 when she applied for NYCHA housing. She’s now 80 and still waiting. (PHOTO/Courtesy Nelida Cintron.)

Cintrón on the day of her wedding in Puerto Rico

Cintrón recently decided to remove other family members from her NYCHA application
renewal, hoping it would give her a better chance of receiving a unit — despite heading into her
senior years where she might need her family’s support more than ever.

To this day, Cintrón and Padilla remember their last words to NYCHA: as they were leaving the room after being denied once
again at the appellate meeting, Padilla turned around and told officials, “I hope you don’t wait
until she dies too.”