165 West 197th Street
by Christiana Barkley and Yuxiao Gao
The Bronx Ink has profiled buildings owned by Ved Parkash, who was until recently rated the worst landlord in New York by the Public Advocate’s office. The profiles form part of a wider investigation into housing conditions and tenant harassment in the Bronx. Find other buildings using the panel to the right.
On an ordinary Wednesday afternoon, 82-year-old Dorothy LaGrande slowly pushes a shopping cart that’s half her size but seemingly most of her weight into the lobby of 165 West 197th Street.
The hollowness and duskiness make the building look deserted and short electricity wires hang from the high Victorian sculptured ceiling, suggesting that bright chandeliers, rather than three ceiling lights, could light up the quiet lobby. LaGrande has called this building home for most of her life, but recent changes have made the conditions unbearable.
“Everything I ask for goes unnoticed. I try to ask only for things I absolutely need, but even that seems to be too much,” she said .
LaGrande’s refrigerator hasn’t been working for three months, forcing her to open an additional credit card to buy an ice cooler for perishable items. It’s not possible to keep fresh foods from spoiling, so pushing a shopping a cart to and from the grocery store has become a part of her everyday routine.
Department of Buildings records show that the only elevator in the six-story building is the subject of the most complaints and serious violations. LaGrande has felt trapped by it breaking down. More often than not, she has been left with no choice but to take the stairs to and from her apartment on the third floor, which has become increasingly difficult and time consuming with age. “When I’m carrying my bags with ice, it can take hours,” she said.
Despite having filed several service requests, this issue, amongst others, has gone unaddressed. When LaGrande saw a new shipment of refrigerators in the lobby and followed up with the building superintendent, she was told that none of the new units were for her apartment.
The superintendent knew LaGrande’s refrigerator and stove haven’t been working, and claimed to have replaced her refrigerator five times since he took the job two years ago. When he was told that LaGrande’s refrigerator was not functioning he made a phone call to Parkash’s office immediately, but the call was not picked up. Parkash declined to comment on this allegation.
In addition to the refrigerator, LaGrande’s stovetop doesn’t function properly and her kitchen is lined with self-made traps for cockroaches. The entryway is lined with chipped paint that paves the way into a living room where peeling wallpaper is covered by framed photographs of a past life that LaGrande is proud to speak of.
“It embarrasses me to show you my apartment as it is today, this is not how life has always been here,”she said.
LaGrande moved to New York from Jamaica with her mother 30 years ago, and the pre-war, rent-stabilized building provided refuge for her family.
“I used to think of this place as a safe haven., We were taken in with no questions asked when my mother and I were having problems finding housing,” said LaGrande.