Walls That Tumbled Down

Deficits, disrepair and disarray plague public housing

The 13 monolithic high-rises that make up New York City's St. Nicholas public housing project sprawl over an area roughly the size of Rockefeller Center. But there the comparison ends. The hallways are easels for spray-painted graffiti. The stairwells reek of urine and ammonia.

Elevators rarely work. Despite this winter's bone-chilling temperatures, the project's 4,000 residents have had heat only intermittently. Several days before Christmas, one shivering tenant accidentally set her apartment on fire with an electric space heater. She had to wait 31½ weeks for the...

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