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City Limits: Crackdown on HIV drug black market

People living with HIV or AIDS overseas sometimes struggle to access appropriate treatments, especially in the Caribbean.

City Limits published a Bronx Ink investigation of the black market of HIV medications in Washington Heights and the Bronx. Written by reporter Diane Jeantet, the article takes an in depth look at this deadly trade of HIV medication–who sells them, why, where and at what cost. The story examines city officials’ efforts to change the legislation regarding the buying and selling of such prescription drugs.

A new law targeting dealers of HIV treatment could strengthen sanctions for people arrested while selling or buying the pills.  The bill, passed by the Senate in June, will be considered this year by the State Assembly. To read the full report, click here.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Health, Politics0 Comments

Could Congressman Rangel end up representing the Bronx? — The NY World

Ever since the 2010 Census exposed ethnic shifts in New York State, the legislature been working to redraw the political map.  Columbia J-School’s New York World reports that a number of ethnic organizations in Northern Manhattan are working on plans that might lead to radical changes for Rep. Charles Rangel’s 15th district.

Two of the proposals would extend the district seat Rangel has held for 30 years into the Bronx and Westchester counties.

The 81-year-old Harlem congressman said he was not opposed to representing parts of the Bronx, but hoped a majority of his seats would remain in New York County.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Politics0 Comments

Troubled Bronx buildings flipped again

Troubled Bronx buildings flipped again

Dyan Kerr

Dyan Kerr deals with a wall of mold in her Williamsbridge apartment. (STEVEN GRABOSKI/The Bronx Ink)

With a single tap of the finger, mailboxes open at 1585 East 172nd Street in Soundview. It’s a trick anyone can pull off.

“Social Security and Section 8 checks have gone missing,” said Andres Rios, the leader of the building’s tenant’s association.

Broken mailboxes are just one problem facing Rios’ building, one of six notoriously distressed buildings in Highbridge, Morris Heights and Soundview. The buildings have been in disrepair since 2006, bouncing from owner to owner, each either without a plan to fix them or the money to carry the plans out.

The buildings were sold again in September, this time to Bronx real estate agent Anthony Gazivoda, for $21.4 million. Gazivoda paid almost $7 million more than the previous owner, a surprisingly high purchase price that has tenants and housing advocates afraid that the new owner will find himself just as cash-strapped as the previous ones.

“There is no financial story that justifies that sale,” said Dina Levy, executive director of the Urban Housing Assistance Board, the advocacy group that has been following the plight of the buildings. “You can twist it but you still can’t justify it. There’s no amount of rationalization that gets you to $21 million. That’s troubling.”

Anthony Gazivoda did not respond to numerous interview requests.

From the outside, Gazivoda appears to have very few options for turning a profit on the buildings, which house low-income families who cannot afford to pay high rents. Gazivoda is also limited by city regulations, which prevent him from raising many of his tenants’ rents above a small percentage every year.

With no clear profit prospects, tenants and housing advocates are worried that Gazivoda will not have the financial means to make the repairs that are desperately needed. Even worse, they fear that he will stop maintaining the buildings altogether, just like the previous owners.

“I cannot believe we’re here again,” said Levy. “Except this time it’s more money, more money than has ever been put on these buildings.”

The buildings, which sold for $13.5 million in 2010 to previous owner BXP 1 LLC, had 379 violations of the city’s housing code on Dec. 6. The violations range from broken windows and leaky ceilings to padlocked fire exits, entrances that do not lock, and exposed electrical wiring. Four of the buildings have lead-based paint violations.

History of Neglect
Anthony Gazivoda is the fourth landlord in the past five years for the six Bronx buildings. The previous three have not been able to improve the dilapidated conditions in the buildings.

The problems are nothing new in the buildings, which have been poorly maintained since the now-defunct Ocelot group purchased them in 2006. After a bitter power struggle left Ocelot without the money to carry out repairs, the group became an absentee landlord, neglecting maintenance until things were so bad that the city took the group to court and ordered them to repair nearly 3,000 violations and pay a $60,000 fine. They were then sold in 2009 to Queens realtor Sam Suzuki of BXP 1 LLC.

Suzuki ended up being no better than Ocelot; under his ownership the buildings racked up over 2,500 housing code violations and two of the Morris Heights buildings made the city’s most distressed list. Angered, the tenants of the Soundview buildings took Suzuki to court where a judge ordered that he make emergency repairs and sentenced him to jail when he failed to do so.

The Manhattan-based Bluestone Group took control of the buildings in June of 2010, promising to make repairs and take a long-term interest in the buildings. Yet Bluestone orchestrated BXP 1’s sale of the buildings to Gazivoda a little over a year later, and angry tenants accused the company of doing just enough to sell the buildings for a profit.

Tenants were initially weary when Gazivoda took over and reported that, like Bluestone before him, Gazivoda asked for a month to begin carrying out repairs. But since then, tenants in the Highbridge and Morris Heights buildings say that security has improved.

“Most of these owners, when they first come here they promise one thing, but then it changes,” tenant Wilfreda Gonzalez said back in September. Gonzalez had high hopes when Gazivoda purchased her building at 1640 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. “This owner, at least I can say that he put in the cameras and intercoms.”

Anthony Gazivoda

Anthony Gazivoda

But more than a month later, the 11-year resident felt differently about ownership. A leak from the apartment above damaged her bathroom walls last summer, and the tiles have yet to be replaced.
“They’re giving me the runaround,” said Gonzalez, who has called the landlord repeatedly. “He bought the apartment and he has to fix it.”

Gazivoda is both an important and mysterious figure in the Bronx real estate market. The 51-year-old Albanian realtor, who sits on the business development board at Hudson Valley Bank, has been in the real estate business since 1978. Since then, city records show that over 40 real estate companies tied to the Gazivoda family have come share the same 3200 Cruger Ave. address. Altogether, Gazivoda and his family own almost 40 buildings in the Bronx.

Bronx Albanians move into real estate

Albanians first migrated to America in 1876, according to Constantine Demo, author of The Albanians in America. But they began to move to New York City in big numbers in the 1960s, settling in the Bronx around Morris Park, Arthur Avenue and Pelham Parkway, said Ismer Mjeku, the publisher of the Albanian Yellow Pages, an annual guide for Albanian personal and commercial contacts all across the countryAs Albanian immigrants were settling in these Italian enclaves of the Bronx, they concentrated in the food and restaurant industry, which until then had been mainly run by Italian families. Gradually Albanians took over the business and, in the 1980s, displaced many Italian owners from those restaurants.In their pursuit of business diversification, Albanians got into real estate and started amassing properties. According to Mjeku, today the Albanian community owns almost a third of all the apartment buildings in the Bronx, although he said there is no official data to support his claim.The 2011 edition of the Albanian Yellow Pages shows at least 26 Albanian-owned real estate companies operating in the Bronx and Mt. Vernon.

-Mahmoud Sabbagh

Despite owning so much land, very little is known about Gazivoda himself, and the lack of information is worrying to housing advocates. “Who these people are is not clear to us,” said Levy, who has worked at the Urban Housing Assistance Board for seven years. Levy added that Gazivoda “has a very insular network.”

Gazivoda has a mixed record as a landlord. Some of his buildings have no violations, others have as many as 98. And though none of the buildings are as bad as his latest purchases, tenants in his more troubled buildings paint a negative picture of the landlord.

Dyan Kerr lives in one of Gazivoda’s older properties with her family at 678 East 225th St. in Williamsbridge, where violations decreased from 58 to 26 from October to December. Despite the drop in violations, Kerr said she has been dealing with mice and mold for over a year.

“I’m tired of this place,” said Kerr, who has inch-long mold dots clearly visible in her bathroom. Kerr said that management has cleaned the mold in the past, but it kept growing back. In addition, Kerr revealed brown filth in her kitchen cabinet that she said were mice droppings.
“This is how we’re living now because people don’t want to fix nothing,” Kerr said.

Bathroom mold is also a problem a few miles away in Belmont, where Shantelle Guzman lives in another of Gazivoda’s older properties.

“They paint over the mold and the super doesn’t fix anything, he doesn’t live here,” said Guzman, who lives at 611 East 182nd St.

Guzman’s apartment also has holes in the walls, where she said mice enter her one-bedroom apartment. She is also upset about shoddy heating that forces her and other residents to use their ovens for heat and an irregular flow of hot water in the building and would like to leave.

Back in Soundview, moving has never been an option for Rios, who has led his tenant’s association through five different landlords in 14 years. If necessary, Rios is gearing up for the next battle.

“I like to bark and bite,” said Rios, who showed Gazivoda the faulty mailboxes in front of a group of tenants at a meeting on Nov. 9. Before exiting, Gazivoda assured his tenants that the mailbox problem, as well as the dysfunctional fire alarms, would be addressed.

“He said it would be taken care of but that it’s not going to be done quick,” he added, discouraged. “I guess to them it wasn’t a priority.”

Posted in Gazivoda0 Comments

Five arrested during Occupy The Bronx protest


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Two young boys, one of them holding the Occupied Wall Street Journal, witnessed the arrival of the police at Morning Glory. (Diane Jeantet/BronxInk)

Policemen from the 40th Precinct in the South Bronx arrested five people on Saturday morning during an Occupy the Bronx protest. Organizers had planned a day of peaceful demonstrations to express their disapproval of the city’s decision last month to close a community garden and prepare the land for sale.

The arrests add another handful to the more than 5,000 arrests that have been  reported by Occupy Arrests, a group of anonymous Occupy Wall Street protesters. The group relies mainly on tweets sent via the Twitter handle @OccupyArrests by other protestors around the country.

The police were already at Morning Glory, the garden located on Southern Boulevard and Union Avenue, when people started gathering at 11 a.m.  Authorities told the crowd of about 20 protesters that they were trespassing on the sidewalk and warned they would be arrested if they didn’t leave.

Local residents had recently turned this lot – empty for 30 years – into a community garden in an area where fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce. But the Department of Housing Preservation and Development has plans to sell it and in November, the city sent contract workers to destroy the plantings.

After the arrests, the crowd of about 20 people decided to follow the police cars back to the 40th Precinct, which is  about a mile and a half away.”Let them go! Let them go!,” protesters chanted as they walked slowly up Alexander Avenue.

All five were released with a summons after the intervention of Insha Rahman, one of the movement’s lawyers, and two hours of continuous protests outside the police station. The one woman and four men will have to go to court to fight their case and may be fined.

Shaun Li from Brooklyn was arrested while protesting by the Morning Glory garden. (Diane Jeantet/BronxInk)

The police declined to comment on the arrests and warned protesters that more arrests could be ahead if the demonstration continues.

“I saw someone getting arrested so I walked up to see if he was OK,” said Shaun Lin, a 28 year-old Brooklynite, minutes after his release. “Then I saw a police man pointing at me and say: ‘Arrest him too.’” Lin, who has been involved in community organizing for five years, said this was his first interaction with the police and that he had not been warned previously that he would be arrested.

“They just came and grabbed five people,” said Elliott Liu, one of the organizers of Saturday’s protest. Two years ago, Liu helped with the opening of the Morning Glory garden and organized the protests against its closure. He is now actively involved with Occupy the Bronx, a branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

After the incident, the crowd had grown to about 50 people. All decided to start walking back to Morning Glory, a place symbolic of the community’s struggles to have a say in local affairs.

On two occasions, supporting chants and bravos could be heard from a few high-perched windows in the surrounding buildings as marchers walked past.

“I’m surprised to see them here but it makes me feel good,” said Bronx-native René Figueroa, 44, as he saw the small crowd marching on the Hub, a particularly busy area of the South Bronx on 149th Street and Third Avenue.  “The Bronx has to change. I want my kids to grow up in a better place,” said the father of two.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, people should be together,” said Figueroa before going back to his apartment, an issue of the Occupied Wall Street Journal in his hands.

Posted in Politics, Slideshows0 Comments

Bronx policeman arrests drunk flight passenger, NY Post

A 18-year NYPD veteran arrested a 22 year-old man on a flight back from Puerto Rico. The 22 year-old identified as Antonio Ynoa, allegedly punched four times a female flight attendant in the face. Ynoa seems to have started the fight after the attendant refused to bring him more soda to mix with the duty-free bottle of rum he had brought with him in the plane.

Two mothers and their babies were seating next to the young man. “The babies were crying, I could see the fear in the passengers’ faces,” said policeman Anibal Mercado, from the 44th Precinct.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

City falls short to punish worst slumlords, NY Daily News

Despite spending $33 million on a program which goal was to crack down on slumlord owners, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development has failed to improve the living conditions of thousands of tenants.

In 2007 for instance, housing officials named 935 Kelly St. in the Bronx one of New York’s “worst of the worst” and targeted the five-story walkup for major repairs. Four years later, after spending more than $500,000 in renovations and maintenance work the building is back to what it used to be: broken windows, missing door locks and drug dealers frightening neighbors.

At the beginning of the campaign, called “alternative enforcement program”, 400 buildings were on the city’s list, with more than 1,200 apartments. Today, 45% of these buildings are still in the program.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Power failure at nursing home leaves Bronx woman dead, NY Daily News

A 49 year-old patient relying on ventilator died after a power outage at the Eastchester Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Pelham Gardens. Emergency Medical Services had to transport 37 other patients to nearby hospitals to avoid such incidents.

Ari Donowitz, an administrator at the 200-bed nursing home admitted the the generator might not have been functioning well. “We did have some issues with the generator,” he said.  “We’re conducting an investigation.”

At 1.3o am about 4,000 residents suffered from the outage in the area, but the electricity was back in most households within two hours.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

All-boy Catholic High School Educator involved in child-porn scandal, NY Daily News

Brother Lawrence Gordon, 31, was assistant principal at Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx. On Valentine’s Day this year he accidentally left  a USB stick in one of the the school’s library computers, which was later found by another teacher. The device contained sexually explicit images of young boys. Gordon was fired.

Authorities knew about the problem in March but Gordon had health problems and had to spend some time in hospital, delaying the prosecution. To avoid going to jail, Gordon pleaded guilty and will spend from a year to a year and a half at a Maryland treatment center. He will also have to sign up on the national Sex Offender Registry.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

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