City makes some repairs to crumbling building
By James Bachhuber
and Joe Hirsch
The government-sponsored agency that holds the mortgage on Hunts Point’s “house of horrors,” the four-building apartment complex at 621-627 Manida Street, has foreclosed on the property, leaving a court-appointed receiver and management company to deal with one of the city’s worst buildings.
They are charged with improving conditions for the tenants who have been battling with the help of Hunts Point Alliance for Children to correc more than 2,000 building code violations, including more than 300 that the city characterizes as immediately hazardous.
There are some signs of slow progress.
Tenants say the new management had heating oil delivered to the building, which had been without heat under its formet landlord.
In addition, a city program designed to make repairs on the 200 worst apartment buildings in the city has begun replacing some of the broken doors.
But despite the improvements, conditions remain dire since the tenants filed their first court papers against the building owners on March 11.
“The bathroom ceiling almost fell on my four-year-old when she was taking a bath,” said tenant Theomi Richards, echoing similar complaints from other residents.
“When I heard her say, ‘Mommy, mommy, the ceiling fell,’ I thought she was joking. I looked, and the entire ceiling was in a bathtub of water.”
Other tenants complained about caving ceilings, sagging floors, broken windows and door locks, trash in the halls, foul smells and robberies.
At a May 19 meeting in front of the buildings, angry tenants expressed their frustration to representatives from the city’s department of Housing Development and Preservation. Latrell Johnson of HPD tried to reassure the residents that bids for contractors have been put out, and that, although no timeline could be established for the work to begin, the tenants should feel encouraged.
But Johnson also tried to temper expectations.
“You won’t be getting brand new apartments,” he told tenants, emphasizing that the city’s priority will be to take care of the major violations.
At court appearance after court appearance, the tenants and their lawyers, Jill Roche of HPAC and Marie Tatro, have dealt with a string of lawyers who deny their clients’ accountability and toss responsibility to another organization. Finally, the full story has come out.
The building’s owner of record is called OCG II, a part of the Ocelot Capital Group. But Bronx Housing Court Judge Jerald R. Klein ordered the tenants to change the defendant to the current property manager, Hunter Property Management. Hunter had been hired by DDF Bronx Portfolio, which was in negotiations with Ocelot Capital Group to purchase eight properties, including the Hunts Point apartments.
At the April 15 court appearance, however, a representative from the federal agency Fannie Mae, the mortgage holder, told Judge Klein that it would not approve the sale, and planned to foreclose.
It will take roughly six months to complete the transfer of the building to a new owner. Until then an administrator appointed by the court will be in charge, essentially acting as the landlord.
“In terms of crusading justice,” said Roche, the situation has been “a pain in the neck.” But, she added, “On the other hand it seems the receiver will be a lot more amenable to working with us, which is of course what we really want.”
Though the buildings remain infested with vermin, the walls are still thick with mold, and the doors have been torn off vacant apartments, which are littered with garbage, there have been some improvements for the tenants. Hunts Point Alliance for Children has worked to get children from the buildings into summer programs at Rocking the Boat, and the Point.
HPAC has also arranged for bimonthly produce deliveries from Heather Mills Produce, and on Easter local nuns provided turkeys.
The tenants are discouraged by the delays in getting their buildings fixed, but having come so far, say they remain committed to their cause.
Still, many tenants are not willing to patiently wait for work to begin.
“I’m going to go look for another apartment,” said Sheryl Lucas angrily. “I can’t have my kids take a bath and the roof fall in.”
A version of this article appeared in the June 2009 issue of The Hunts Point Express.