Tag Archive | "Bronx"

An Election, Or Something Like It

By Alex Berg

On mayoral election day, polling stations in the South Bronx bared little resemblance to one year ago, when feverish crowds turned out to vote in the presidential election.

That was then, when upwards of 2.6 million New Yorkers voted in the presidential election. On November 4th of this year, the New York Times reported only 1.1 million New Yorkers came out to vote, according to the city’s Board of Elections.

I conducted exit polls at about six polling stations, along with other BronxInk.org reporters who were stationed all over the Bronx.

The Mott Haven Community Center, at 3rd Ave. and 143rd St., had the most consistent stream of voters. Still, voters were scarce enough that poll workers were able to escort them, one by one, from the street into the center. That was while other poll workers smoked cigarettes and relaxed outside.

According to one poll worker, two of the three voting machines were broken anyway. Even so, there were no lines, no complaints.

During the chilly hour I spent standing outside the center starting around 7:45 a.m., few more than eight people showed up to cast their votes.

“I believe in the process and I want my vote to count,” said Roxanne R., a 40-something year old nurse who refused to give her last name. Roxanne was one of the few and the proud who voted at the community center, in part because she felt it was her duty as a member of the community.

Her attitude was not common.

Five blocks south of the community center at the Judge Gilbert Ramirez Apartments, there was one voter over the span of 40 minutes. She declined to speak with me.

This scene repeated itself at four other polling stations, where there were either very few voters or none at all. By noon, I spoke with 11 voters in total. Eight voted for former Comptroller Bill Thompson, two voted for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and one refused to identify who she voted for.

BronxInk.org’s Bronx-wide exit polls reported Bronxites voted for Bill Thompson 2-1, most of them motivated against the mayor’s bid to overturn term limits.

“We have to get Bloomberg out of office,” said Natasha Spivey, a 40-year-old administrative assistant who voted at P.S. 154 on 135th St. “He bought his term limit.”

But perhaps the underwhelming voter turnout parallels the candidates’ absence in the Bronx.

As I walked along 3rd Avenue from 149th St. to 135th St. and up various cross streets, I saw only two campaign posters. They were signs for Thompson. One was crushed in the street outside the Mott Haven Houses, a housing project.

Teresa Hargraves, a 60-year-old who voted at P.S. 154, said she though both candidates neglected the Bronx during the campaign.

Hargraves was right. On election night, BronxInk.org reporter Maia Efrem asked the Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. if Thompson came to the Bronx during the campaign. Diaz said he did. Once.

When I called Thompson’s press contact to verify how frequently he campaigned in the Bronx, I was told at the time there was no one in the office that knew (Mayor Bloomberg’s Bronx office did not return my call or email).

At the end of the day, Mayor Bloomberg beat out Thompson by less than five percent. It’s difficult not to consider how the election might have been different if more people voted. Or if the candidates had treated the Bronx like the rest of New York City.

Posted in Bronx Blog, PoliticsComments (0)

1744 Clay Ave.

by Sarah Omar Wali and Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Workmen with blue shirts labeled “JLP Home Imp. Inc” were a welcome sight for the tenants of 1744 Clay Ave. in East Tremont one fall week in October. Their 73-year-old building has been collapsing rapidly into disrepair for the last two years.  For many, the conditions have become unbearable.

The team of repairmen has been hired by JLP Management Inc., which holds a temporary lien on the property.  Five bathrooms have already received new tiles and a paint job. The rest of the repairs for the 42 units are expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Still, tenants in the 38 occupied apartments continue to be overwhelmed by the mold, the collapsing ceilings, and the general decay that accelerated under Ocelot, and later Hunter Property Management LLC.  The tenants have filed 51 complaints with the Department of Housing and Preservation Development (HPD) citing serious problems that include the broken elevator, the unstable structure, and problems with the heat.

According to Carmen Pineiro, president of the tenants association, conditions turned from bad to worse when Hunter took over management of the building in November, 2008. Since then, she said, the tenants lost hot water and heat several times, the elevator went out of service for almost a year, and repairs to holes in the walls and ceilings were neglected.

Niger Harris, who lives in apartment 1C, worries that the derelict conditions will affect the health of her asthmatic 7-year-old daughter, Nyla.  Doctors found that the levels of lead in Nyla’s system have tripled since the two moved into 1744 Clay Ave. along with Harris’s sister.

According to Harris, doctors ordered a Bi-Level Positive Air Pressure (BIPAP) machine the machine when Nyla failed a sleeping test this year. She lost her ability to breathe for five seconds while she was asleep. Doctors warned Harris that her daughter’s health will not improve unless she moves out of the building.

Others stay because they feel a deep connection to the building – even now. For many, 1744 Clay Ave. has been home for over 25 years.  Pineiro said they are connected to the building through memories and experiences and find it hard to imagine living anywhere else.

There is a strong sense of community in the building.   The unlocked security gate doesn’t deter neighbors from keeping their apartment doors open.   While the halls may be stained with dirt by the years of neglect, they are clean enough for children to run and play in while adults stand around the stairs chatting.

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1528 Bryant Ave.

by Alec Johnson and Amanda Staab

From the outside, 1528 Bryant Ave. looks like a decent building. But once inside, it´s clear that years of neglect have taken a toll. Poor wiring, faulty plumbing,crumbling walls and filth caused by both old age and neglect plague the structure.

Residents say that their five-story, 21-unit apartment building has not been regularly maintained for years. The city´s housing department has on file 483 open violations against 1528 Bryant Ave., 162 of them registered since October 13, 2008. The most common complaint was the lack of utilities.

The building´s rapid decline can be traced from July, 2007, when it was purchased by OCG VII, an Ocelot entity, with Fannie Mae financing. Ocelot imploded in late 2008, however, and Fannie Mae foreclosed on the loan earlier this year. The City has now placed the building in its new Alternative Enforcement Program, under the supervision of Marc Landis, the court-appointed receiver.

Irma Aponte and her husband, Eddie, moved into the building 43 years ago and have seen it literally fall apart before their eyes over the past four decades.

“It was beautiful when we moved in,” said Irma Aponte who said the last few owners have walked away from the building after using it to make a little cash. “As soon as they got a few dollars in their pocket they left,” she said.

Aponte pointed to a leaky drainpipe in her apartment, which her husband patched up with a soda can and duct tape over one year ago. She said the electricity shorts out constantly, because of poor wiring all over the building.

“I can´t have air conditioning,” said Aponte who buys whole boxes of fuses when she sees them in stores because they are tough to get.

On Aug. 25, the city took over the building after foreclosing on Ocelot. The city´s Department of Preservation and Development then came in to make emergency repairs.

Since Fannie Mae foreclosed earlier this year, the city´s Department of Housing Preservation and Development has come in to make emergency repairs. A new roof and front door have been installed, securing the building from drug addicts, who Aponte claimed were wandering into the building to smoke crack in the stairwells. Ramos said the fuse boxes and wiring are scheduled to be replaced soon.

One abandoned apartment on the fourth floor has been turned into a pigeon coop, residents say, by someone who lives within the building.  Twenty pigeons roost on a baby crib. Bags of corn lay nearby in a red plastic container.

The birds and bird food attract vermin and roaches into the already decrepit building, Aponte said. “I would like to know what they´re going to do with the building,” she said, “because we have no landlord.”

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1269-1271 Morris Ave

By Alex Berg and Alex Abu Ata

Two weeks after Carmen Perez moved into her apartment at 1271 Morris Ave. in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, the bathroom ceiling collapsed. Water gushed into the apartment she shares with her seven children. That was last November, the beginning of an entire winter Perez endured without heat or hot water.

The ceiling was finally repaired only three months ago, 10 months later.

Perez’s problems are common to the tenants at 1271 and its sister building next door at 1269 Morris Ave. Many tenants live in rodent-infested apartments with sinking floors, cracked walls and tiling, leaks and broken windows. Last winter, Fidelina Espinal said she had no heat for four weeks in her apartment in 1271.

The management company has not been responsive to these problems.

“By the time you wait for these people you die,” said Linda Gonzales, who lives on the first floor of 1269.

Ocelot purchased the buildings for $1.95 million in 2007 from FJF Management, according to the city register. After the real estate investment company ran out of money in July, the building went into receivership. It is currently being maintained by receiver Marc Landis through Treetop Management, a company based in New Jersey. Treetop has been making some repairs to the building to prepare it for sale, according to the superintendent Juan Ruiz, who has lived in 1269 for three years.

There are currently 301 violations for 1269 and 237 for 1271, according to the department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). Different management companies and building superintendents have come and gone in the last couple of years. Many of the tenants, however, attribute much of the buildings’ disrepair to Ocelot.

“The previous owners? There were a lot of problems,” said Ivan Jimenez, who has lived in a fourth floor apartment in 1271 for 30 years. “The super can’t do anything unless the landlord gives him the money to do so. But if the landlord doesn’t give him the money and the supplies, he can’t do anything.”

Of the 15 apartments in each building, seven are vacant in 1269 and two are vacant in 1271. There are no locks on the front doors of either building. Peeling paint, trash, condoms, mold and dirt line the hallways on many of the floors. Official complaints in both buildings range from mold to lead, and in 2007, 1271 was named one of the 200 most poorly maintained buildings by HPD.

“At one point rats came out of the ceiling,” Jimenez said. “Six rats fell into the tub.”

Some tenants pay low subsidized rent, around $400, or no rent at all like Perez, whose $1,100 rent is entirely subsidized. Many of the tenants owe tens of thousands of dollars in back rent.

Last week, the tenants’ concerns were briefly appeased when the heat came on. But some, like Carmen Perez, are unsure whether they’ll continue to live in the building after their lease runs out.

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1804 Weeks Ave.

by Sarah Omar Wali and Mustafa Mehdi Vural

The newly painted pink and blue walls in apartment 52 in the building at 1804 Weeks Ave. give the illusion of a well-cared for living space.  But the bright colors provide only a thin cover for the vermin-infested apartment Fernando Diaz shares with his wife and two young daughters.

Outside, boarded-up windows and broken glass leave the impression that the East Tremont building is abandoned.  Inside, graffiti splashes the hallways, doors are missing, and the shaky staircase is pocked by holes. “Don’t Rent Here,” is scrawled on the doors of empty apartments. More than 20 families, most of them Latino, are attempting to survive in this five-story building,which was bought by an Ocelot entity in August 2007. It has been in foreclosure since April of this year.

Twenty-seven of the 33 apartments are occupied and the rent averages $850 a month.  According to the Department of Housing and Preservation’s (HPD) records, tenants have filed 338 complaints in the past year.

HPD took note of the broken windows, trash strewn floors, lack of security and hot water, and put the building under the Alternative Enforcement Program in early 2008.  The year-old program, was designed to identify and fix dwellings in severe distress.  The law allowed the city to sweep in to make necessary repairs, and then slap the derelict owner with a hefty fine.

Yet this program has had little to no impact on the quality of life inside 1804 Weeks Ave.  According to the program’s report, as of Oct. 2007, the owners owed $19,100 as a tax lien to the city for open violations against the building.  This included a $16,500 fee that was carried over from the previous fiscal year on April 24, 2009.  Under the program’s guidelines, the city charges a fee for violations that remain unresolved. This building currently carries 581 outstanding violations, according to HPD.

Diaz has been living on the fifth floor with his wife, Rosie Benitas, and their two daughters Jacquelin, 7, and Tanya, 4, since February. They used to live in a second-floor apartment, but a fire forced them to move upstairs.

Diaz tried calling the maintenance supervisor in the building, he said. But he was told the super would not do any work in the apartment until he received his paycheck.  Diaz understands the super’s dilemma, but said he is more concerned about the mice and rats that could crawl into his daughters’ beds at night.

Using 311, Diaz has attempted to file formal complaints about rodent problems, lack of hot water and falling ceilings.  However, after months of neglect, he decided to at least try and make the apartment cheery.

Diaz painted the walls in bold hues to cover up the holes around the bathroom knobs.   The girls’ room was given a cool turquoise color to divert them from the windows that don’t open–creating an inferno in the summer.

However, most of the damage cannot be ignored, he said.   His bedroom ceiling leaks when it rains, and the crack is edging closer to the light fixture.  At night he lays in bed, staring at his ceiling, hoping that faulty wires will not cause another fire, and force them out once more.

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1663 Eastburn Ave.

By Alex Abu Ata and Alex Berg

Vivian Blanco chokes back tears when she remembers the last winter she spent at her 1663 Eastburn Avenue apartment in the East Tremont section of the Bronx.

“To sleep we had to wear socks and scarves and coats,” said Blanco, who lives in one of the 43 apartments in the six-story building. None of the apartments had heat last winter. “It was so uncomfortable to sleep with all those clothes and blankets on top of you because it’s heavy, you can’t even move.”

Most of the apartments suffer a variety of damage, including mold, broken window frames, cracked walls and ceilings, and occasional rodent infestations. The tenants say the building’s decay accelerated after OCG IV – a company linked to Ocelot – bought it for $3.175 million in February of 2007. Ocelot abandoned its holdings less than two years later.

From the tenants’ perspective, Ocelot’s disappearance was a relief.

“We didn’t have any service,” said Blanco, a 55-year-old hospital unit assistant whose grandchildren cannot visit her because of her apartment’s condition. “At least now I can call someone and they’ll pick up the phone.” Blanco said she got the contact information for city workers who were fixing the building and hired them to fix her apartment. But problems keep popping up in the old building. In the last 12 months alone, 295 violations were reported.

Tenants have often had to do the repairs themselves, at their own expense. When the management refused to repair the living room ceiling in Blanco’s apartment, she hired workers and purchased the material herself. The total cost amounted to $2,000 and Blanco had to take a week off work to supervise the repairs.

But maintenance isn’t the only problem. Hector Melo Ramos, a third-floor resident, said in Spanish that his apartment was robbed and there are drug dealers in the building.

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2254 Crotona Ave.

By Maia Efrem

From a distance, the building at 2254 Crotona Ave. looks like all the other dwellings in the surrounding blocks. On closer inspection, however, the lock is knocked out on the front door, the windows on the first floor are boarded up and graffiti covers concrete slabs that block the entrance to many apartments in the building.

An Ocelot entity bought the Crotona Avenue building along with four others from Loran Realty X Corporation in July 2007 for almost $7 million. Since then, the six-story, 28-unit structure has gone through three management companies: Ocelot, Hunter Property Management, and now JLP Metro Management, Inc.

Large swaths of graffiti covered the hallways and apartment doors until they were painted by JLP Metro several weeks ago. Tenants are pleased to see the graffiti gone, but they said they still suffer from moldy walls and plumbing problems.

When Ocelot, and later Hunter Property Management, stopped providing maintenance services for the tenants, the conditions swiftly deteriorated. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has 859 open violations for the building, 738 of which are either “hazardous,” or “immediately hazardous.” Complaints include exposed electrical wires, faulty and leaky plumbing, and lack of a working carbon monoxide detecting device.

According to the current superintendant, Victor Garcia, the building had no landlord for roughly six months. Rent was not collected during that period, and the building deteriorated because of lack of upkeep. There was no heat and hot water. “It was chaos, every man to himself,” said Garcia. “There was no one to complain to or answer to.” According to Garcia, some tenants owe as much as $20,000 in unpaid rent.

Altagracia Rogers has two holes in her bathroom, one in the ceiling and one in the floor; both offer her a view of her neighbors and them of her. “We try to cover it up with bags but it doesn’t always work,” she said, pointing towards the ceiling where the gaping hole reveals a blue bathroom upstairs. She has endured several floods in the last year. “No one helps us, we have to help ourselves,” she said.

Because there was no one to pay for the repairs in the building, there was also no one to pay Garcia for his work. “Everything I did I did for free,” he said. “I even bought a five-gallon can of paint, walked away for a minute and a tenant had stolen it to paint her own apartment. I couldn’t even be mad, I just laughed it off.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, HousingComments (0)

Tenants Complain of ‘House of Horrors’

by Sarah Wali

LaDonna Clements the white tile pictured above were a preventive measure against mold on her bathroom ceiling, but realized her mistake when it too was covered.

LaDonna Clements waited impatiently at the foot of the stairs at 689 E. 187th St. in the Bronx one afternoon in October. She and her son, Rondell, were moving some of their belongings to another, safer apartment in Harlem.  A loud crash sent her running.

On the third floor landing she saw her son’s left leg dangling from the landing above her.  He had fallen through, spraining his back and neck, and twisting his ankle.

“We knew eventually the staircase was gonna cave in,” said Clements, a 32-year-old nursing aide.   “We knew, we had a feeling because it would shake.”

Tenants had filed complaints about conditions in this building regularly, according to the New York City Department of Housing and Development. In the past year, it received 31 citations. Although inspectors from the city’s Building Department deemed it safe, the owner, Solieman Rabanipour, was cited for failure to maintain the property.

Rabanipour adamantly denies tenants’ claims of disrepair in the apartment.  He blames Clements and her son for the damage on the landing.

“She’s lying,” said Rabanipour, when asked about Clements’ claims that the stairs were dangerous.  “They were moving furniture, they dropped a piece and the steps broke.”

Rabanipour pointed out that there are no open violations against the building.   He fixed the issues raised in the citations.

However, the dilapidated conditions are hard to miss.

A wooden block replaces the broken landing between the shaky structure’s third and fourth floors.  Out of the six units, five are currently occupied.  Tenants complain of vermin, falling ceilings and lack of hot water.

Yet, Clements, at least at first, felt blessed for the opportunity to move into this real home.  She, like many of her new neighbors, had been living in homeless shelters with her son for months.  She craved stability.  But living without reliable hot water, heat and electricity killed her spirit.

She said her living room windowpane came off shortly after she arrived.  Then mold and mildew piled up until it caked the bathroom ceiling and Rondell ’s bedroom.  If a fuse blew at night, they would have to wait until morning for the restaurant downstairs to open and give them access to the fuse box.

Clements says she tried calling Rabanipour, a Manhattan dentist with a home on Long Island, but got no response.    After over a dozen attempts to file a complaint with the city through 311, an inspector came to check on her apartment in this February.

“They had to close down my living room because they said it was poisonous,” she said.

According to the Department Housing and Development, inspectors found high levels of asbestos and lead poisoning from the paint in the room.    To pass inspection the room had to be gutted and redone.   It was only then, she said, that Rabanipour sent someone to fix the mold problem in the bathroom.

At first she thought the newly installed white plastic on the ceiling was to prevent the problem from occurring once more.   She quickly realized it had only been covered up when it too was spotted with the dark green.

In May, Clements said inspectors advised her to stop paying rent, and to move out of the apartment.  She and Rondell took what they could, and relocated to a housing project in Manhattan.

Rabanipour claims he didn’t know the apartment had been vacant for four months.

“If I knew they had left, why wouldn’t I rent the apartment out to someone else?” he said.

Yessina Rodriguez, 25, who lives in the apartment directly below LaDonna’s, said she has attempted to call the landlord about the damage in her apartment since she moved in a year ago.  The first time she saw anything being fixed was after Rondell fell through the stairs.

“We don’t have a super at all,” she said.  “We have a guy from the restaurant downstairs who comes and cleans once a month, that’s it.”

Rodriquez doesn’t allow her 3 and 8-year-olds to leave the apartment because she feels the hallway is dangerous.  With no buzzer on the door, the narrow dark stairwell is an ideal spot for strangers to loiter.  By morning, she said, the hallway reeks of urine because two of the three windows are jammed shut.

She hasn’t received mail for the year she’s been in her apartment because her mailbox door is broken.  There is no superintendent to fix it, so she’s stuck paying her bills online and finding and trying to keep up with her due dates.  When she tried to call Rabanipour, she couldn’t reach him, and he has yet to return her calls.

Rabanipour claimed Rodriquez  never called him about her complaints.   He blamed the tenants for breaking the buzzer, and not locking the front door.

“I’m there once a week,” he said. “I have a super there.  I don’t understand what they want.  I can’t be there 24-hours a day.”

Rodriquez decided to take things in her own hands when she found mice in her pantry.   The rodents were eating through her food supply, and she could not afford to let food go to waste. No matter how high she put her food, the mice would come to get it.   She bought a small mixed breed puppy to scare them off, even though it’s a pet-free building.

“I don’t care,” she said.  “I’m afraid of putting my hand on the kitchen wall in the dark because I don’t know what will crawl on it.”

According to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development Rodriquez has called 311 more than 50 times to file complaints, since her attempts to contact the landlord were futile.

Now, fresh patches of paint spot the wall.  Tenants say the building is the cleanest it has ever been.   The dirt-stained floor has been swept and the putrid smell is slightly masked by fresh paint.    But they still worry about the shaking staircase.

To Rabanipour, this is just part of owning a building, and there is nothing wrong with 689 E. 187th St.

“It’s in perfectly livable shape,” he said.

Rodriquez may disagree, but without steady work she has no other option.  She will continue to endure its conditions for the next two years, until her lease runs out.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx NeighborhoodsComments (1)

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