Volume 80, Number 18 | September 30 - October 6, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Albert Amateau

Carl Neal on the roof of the Housing Works building on E. Ninth St. He and HSBC volunteers painted the roof white, which reflects heat, to make the building more energy efficient.

Painting a roof white, working on keeping clean

By Albert Amateau

A group of Midtown bank employees spent a warm morning last week on the roof of an East Village residence for H.I.V.-positive, formerly homeless men and women.

Along with one of the residents of the Housing Works building on E. Ninth St. near Avenue D, about 45 HSBC bank employees started painting the roof of the six-story building an eggshell white at about 11:30 a.m. Thurs., Sept. 23.

“We knocked it out before noon,” said Carl Neal, who has been living in the building at 743 E. Ninth St. for the past two years.

The Housing Works painting project is part of the New York City CoolRoofs program, whose goal is to put an energy-efficient white coating on a total of more than 1 million square feet of the city’s roofs by the end of this year. At the end of last week, a total of 780,000 square feet of roofs in the city had a white coating reflecting the sun’s heat, keeping buildings cooler and reducing air conditioning energy bills, according to the city Department of Buildings.

Rebuilding Together New York City, part of nationwide group committed to preserving housing and supporting nonprofit organizations, organized the Housing Works painting project in partnership with HSBC. Matthew Lang, executive director of the local chapter of Rebuilding Together, was among the painting team on E. Ninth St.

“We’re going to paint some of the corridors and trim the bamboo garden on the roof here before we’re finished for the day,” Lang said.

The E. Ninth St. building, with 36 apartments, is one of five buildings that Housing Works owns. Together with 20 scattered-site locations in Staten Island, Housing Works provides 145 apartments in the five boroughs for H.I.V.-positive, formerly homeless men and women.

“We used to have more than 300 units of scattered-site housing around the city until Mayor Giuliani canceled our funding because of a lawsuit we filed,” said Andrew Coamey, Housing Works’ senior vice president and chief financial officer. The group, which operates several health and service clinics in the five boroughs, also runs a chain of thrift shops whose income helps maintain the housing and other services.

“We’re committed to ending the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness,” Coamey said.

For residents like Neal, who spent the morning with HSBC volunteers painting the roof of the E. Ninth St. building last week, the Housing Works residence is a lifesaver.

“Where I came from was hell,” he said during a break in the project last week, describing the drug-ridden housing development where he lived for five years. “I woke up one morning, packed my stuff in a shopping cart and went to the Department of AIDS Services. They had me in an S.R.O. [single-room occupancy hotel] for a while and that was drug-infested,” he said, recalling his feeling of hope when he was able to move into the Housing Works residence in the East Village.

Neal contracted AIDS in 1990.

“I was shooting dope behind my cousin and I used his needle,” he said. “I could see the blood on it but I didn’t care. I was using crack and heroin.” His cousin died of AIDS several years ago and so did his girlfriend.

“I’m 55 years old. God knows how long I’ve got to live and I don’t want to live it on dope,” Neal said, noting that he has been drug-free for several months.

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