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A Tale of Two Cities: Queens Family Struggles Through Winter Without Heat, Hot Water

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As part of NY1's "A Tale of Two Cities" series, NY1's Cheryl Wills reports on a multi-generational family that struggled through the winter with no heat, no hot water and broken elevators in their housing project – but is hopeful for brighter days ahead.

When NY1 caught up with 36-year-old Cory Beckles in Long Island City at the end of a brutal winter, he was clearly overwhelmed. He suffers with sickle cell anemia, and his symptoms worsen when it's bitterly cold.

"Sometimes, I do want to give up, but, you know I have a family now," Beckles said. "That's what keeps me going, my family. But I know if I didn't have a family, I would just be like, 'Hey, that's it. Forget it.'"

At the time, Cory, his wife Justine and their two young sons lived in a cramped one-bedroom apartment in the Ravenswood Housing Project in Long Island City. They had appealed to the New York City Housing Authority for a larger apartment and were told to wait. At the time of our first interview in March, they had been waiting for more than seven years.

"They don't care. Housing don't care," Beckles said. "And it's like, they just come here and just look at stuff, and then, 'Oh, we be back. We going to see what we can do."

Beckles said NYCHA did nothing. The elevator had been broken, again, for months, and every day, Cory walked his 6- and 4-year-old sons up four flights of stairs after school. His compromised health nearly caused him to collapse at the top.

"Coming from up the steps or whatever, sometimes I need to get my oxygen," he said.

His apartment was overrun with mold and mildew in every room, from the kitchen to the bathroom.

"The exhaust fan doesn't work. We don't have any windows in the bathroom, so when we take showers and baths, the ceiling would start to sweat, and then the mold and mildew started to develop on there," said Justine Beckles, Cory's wife.

It also developed in the bedroom, where his sons slept in bone-chilling conditions because the heat didn't work.

"Our kids come in here, I couldn't even come in here because my bones would start aching, yes," Cory Beckles said. "Especially if I'm coming out the shower or taking a bath, I can't come in his room because the coldness gets to my bones, and that's when I start to go into my attacks. So I couldn't come in here."

Justine Beckles said the conditions in the apartment caused her son to develop asthma.

"He wheezes. You hear the raspiness inside of his throat when he's talking and stuff, and he coughs a lot," Justine Beckles said. "It's kind of hard for him because he's an active little boy."

When NY1 reached out to NYCHA to inquire why the Beckles family's long list of complaints had not been addressed, NYCHA quickly moved the family into a larger and clean two-bedroom apartment in another building within a matter of days.

"We're in a new apartment right now. It's much bigger than what we had before, more space and everything," Cory Beckles said. "We have a two-bedroom now, and we have, come over here and see, we have brand new stove, brand new cabinets and everything."

Cory's 57-year-old mother, Glenda Bland, who also lives in the Ravenswood Houses, said she lost sleep many nights worrying about her son, who is also a freelance photographer.

"I feel bad for my son because he have sickle cell anemia, because he always have pain and he's, like, in and out the hospital," Bland said.

This is just one of many stressful chapters for the Bland family. The matriarch, Pearlie Bland, was pregnant with Glenda in 1957, when she relocated to New York City from Clio, South Carolina with her daughters. Pearlie died several years ago at the age of 72, but Glenda and her sisters, and their many children and grandchildren, continue to fight to realize Pearlie's dream for a better life.

Glenda's granddaughter, Kyla Johnson, is one of the family's shining stars. She is graduating from high school and going away to college in Buffalo this fall, a first for the Bland family.

"It's a blessing, but it's also a lot of pressure," Kyla said.

Kyla's mom, Nicole Johnson, said the family, which recently moved out of the projects into a private development, is nervous but excited.

"It's scary, being that she's my only child and I really don't want her to leave, but then I want her to go away so she have the experiences that she needs in life," Johnson said.

Cory Beckles has high hopes for his sons, too. Now that he's in a larger apartment free of mold, the family has plans for a brighter future. And his mom, Glenda, in the tradition of her mother, Pearlie, prays that the road ahead will be smoother than the one they left behind.

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