Additional reporting by Donal Griffin
Residents at 621-627 Manida St. have had a rough year. The list of complaints includes no heat, no hot water, cracks in the ceiling, mold everywhere. More than 3,000 similar conditions have been reported so far. A court-appointed receiver has been slowly carrying out repairs and restoring basics like running water, residents are facing an uncertain future.
The buildings, known locally as the “House of Horrors,” are primed to be sold to a new landlord. But residents don’t know if that will improve their living conditions. “I won’t believe it, until I see it,” said Carmen Rodriguez, a 35-year-old mother of five who heads the newly formed tenants’association.
Rodriguez and her neighbors have been disappointed in the past. “This building is a mess,” said Asia Ezmonds, 30. “Many apartments are vacant and now they’re occupied by drug addicts.”
All they have to do is kick in a door of an empty apartment.
Building residents formed the tenants association because they said they have had enough. Jill Roche from the Hunts Point Alliance for Children heard about the conditions on Manida Street and is representing residents as a legal co-counselor with Urban Justice Center since early March. “Living conditions were awful,” Roche said. “Some of the children were not going to school because they could not even take a shower in the morning.”
Parents like Tamara Taylor, 48, worry about their children’s health. Taylor did not have gas in her apartment for a year, making it impossible to cook for her 12-year-old daughter. “The landlords just don’t care about us,”she said.
Residents have stopped paying rent and say they won’t pay again until their complaints have been addressed. “Everything should be gutted,” said Rodriguez. “Otherwise these issues will be coming back again and again.”
This leaves the receiver, Howard Vargas, who is managing the properties until Fannie Mae can unload them, with the task of trying to improve conditions in the building without rent money. Fannie Mae contributed only $100,000 for repairs, $20,000 of which Vargas used to repair the leaking roofs.
Nonetheless, he and his team have so far dealt with over 700 housing violations. “It’s certainly better than it was,”he said. But there is also still a long way to go.
Now, the residents of the Manida Street apartments are hoping to hear that a non-profit organization might come in and buy these buildings. Until then, the apartments continue to deteriorate around them.