Residents charge huge developer ignores their complaints
By Joe Hirsch
Photo by Joe Hirsch
Seven-year old Jada Anderson hopes the ceiling crack over her bed won’t get any bigger.
A consortium that owns and manages housing complexes across the city has been badly neglecting at least two of their Hunts Point and Longwood properties for years, angry tenants charge.
More than 30 renters at 881 East 162nd Street huddled in the building’s tiny lobby with housing advocates to complain that Atlantic Development Group LLC and its management arm, Knickerbocker LLC, have left them with minimal heating, untended water leaks and no on-site security since the building was completed two years ago.
Representatives of the two interlocking companies denied that there were serious problems in the buildings and said city inspectors had found few violations.
However, an official of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development said the agency was concerned because Atlantic is a major developer of city-supported affordable housing.
Since January, the department has listed 32 tenant complaints for “no heat” on its website, along with 10 open violations, including a heating violation and several relating to water damage and peeling paint.
Water damage, sagging ceilings and mold were key among tenants’ grievances. At the meeting, 29 tenants checked off multiple complaints on forms that will be sent to Atlantic.
“When it rains outside, it pours in here,” said LaToya Cooks, a top-floor tenant in the E. 162nd Street building, which has 87 apartments.
Cooks pointed out a ceiling crack that ran nearly the length of the room above the bunkbed where her two children sleep.
“I did what they told me to do,” said Cooks. “I put it in writing. They never called me back. It’s not how to treat your tenants.”
Cooks and others said Atlantic and Knickerbocker officials rarely return their phone calls, and often belligerently deny there are problems when they do respond.
Shattice Taylor showed a reporter a two-foot wide hole in a wall, closed off with duct tape, next to the trash compactor on her floor.
“You could drop a child down there,” said Taylor.
Other tenants say they have seen intruders enter the building, including one man who was evading police and was able to come in through the back courtyard and leave through the front door.
Lupe Murillo, who says she has lived most of her life in and around Longwood, feels the security problem is out of control.
“Since we have these people administrating, it’s not fair,” said Murillo. “I’m paying for something for my children.”
Murillo said she recently saw a man who was not a tenant masturbating on the premises.
“I said, ‘what the hell you doing here,’” she said, adding the superintendent lives in a different building and is ineffective.
“It’s been a charade, no one contacting you,” said Yolanda Marcial, who works at a nearby rehabilitation center and says she, her husband and two children were the building’s first tenants.
“By now my frustration has taken over,” said Marcial, adding she is now trying to get a transfer to another building.
Marcial says the building’s manager dodged numerous attempts she’d made to discuss problems, and her subsequent faxed grievances to Atlantic’s central office in Manhattan have likewise gone unanswered.
In a written statement, Richard Mulieri of Atlantic said, “Knickerbocker Management diligently manages and maintains 881 East 162nd Street as well as 941 Hoe Avenue, 951 Hoe Avenue and 320 East 159th Street. These buildings comprise over 600 apartments and upon a review of our records and NYC’s records there has been a total of 3 HPD heating violations and 1 apartment with a leaky roof for all of these apartments.
“All of these properties are operated within the requirements set by law. If and when problems are brought to our attention, we take prompt action to remedy the situation.”
Sharon Smith of Knickerbocker also countered the tenants’ contentions.
“There have been no violations in either of those two buildings,” Smith said of 881 and the building next door, also an Atlantic property.
“To say there is no heat is inaccurate,” she said. “If the city issues violations, that is the testament.”
However, Ted Weinstein, Planning Director for the Bronx office of Housing Preservation and Development, told Community Board 2′s Housing Committee the city is concerned. “We’re taking it seriously,” Weinstein said, “because they are a large developer, and they have produced a lot of affordable housing, and we want that affordable housing to be good.”
Atlantic was founded by Marc Altheim and Peter Fine in 1996, to build affordable housing in the five boroughs. In late February, Altheim met with local housing advocates, Councilwoman Maria Del Carmen Arroyo and three tenants from the Hoe Avenue complex to discuss tenant complaints there. Altheim said he cleared up most of the complaints at 941-951 Hoe Avenue after receiving them from the advocates, and told them he would work to improve Atlantic’s response system, to ensure complaints are dealt with more quickly.
Another meeting between the advocates, representatives from Atlantic and Councilwoman Arroyo is expected soon.