By Azriel James Relph
Flies buzz around the rotting corpse of a dead cat lying on a filthy floor in an apartment at 627 Manida Street.
Heaps of months-old garbage cover every inch of the floor in what was once someone’s two-bedroom apartment.
The locks have long since been broken, and anyone can walk right in. But the garbage, the decaying cat and the dirty diapers and piles of clothing give off a rancid smell that attracts flies but repels squatters.
Five months after a judge placed the building in the hands of a court-appointed receiver, 16 families continue to live in the squalor of 625 and 627 Manida Street, the worst two of the four-building Hunts Point “house of horrors” complex at 621-627 Manida.
They are trapped by poverty and by regulations that prevent city officials from moving them to the two other buildings in the complex.
If they were to move, they would lose rental subsidies they depend on, tenant association president Carmen Rodriguez told a recent meeting of the housing committee of Community Board 2.
City aid programs from agencies such as the Human Resources Administration and Department of Homeless Services provide assistance to renters in approved units. Even though conditions are better than at 625 and 627 Manida, open violations at 621 and 623 Manida St. mean tenants cannot get approval to move, according to Rodriguez.
Even if all of the tenants could be moved, it is unclear how repairs would be paid for. The Catch-22 that keeps tenants in their substandard apartments also hinders repairs. JLP Metro, the temporary management hired by the receiver, doesn’t have the funds to do the work because rent subsidy payments have been frozen.
That’s why his firm, Hunter Management, was unable to improve conditions, when his company managed the buildings, between November and March, claimed Sam Suzuki, a principal at Hunter Management, said 75 percent of the rent was frozen.
“It’s not our fault that the manager’s not getting paid,” said Rodriguez. “But we’re the ones who are suffering.”
Tenants at all four buildings went through most of last winter with no heat or hot water. In late October, when the first cold days of this season hit, the heat did come on, but tenants withheld applause.
“I can’t tell you the future of these buildings,” said resident Louise Alvarez. “The heat is cheap now, but it’s expensive in the winter.”
Adjany Monge went through last year’s heatless winter while she was pregnant. She also had moldy walls. “The doctor told me the mold would be bad for the baby,” she said. So in February she scrubbed and painted her apartment herself, without reimbursement.
Covering the mold with paint may not have been enough: four of her children have asthma, her 14-year-old daughter is being tested for outbreaks of rashes and her baby–now seven months old–has been to the doctor several times in recent weeks. “She has a cold that won’t go away,” Monge said.
Monge said that management has promised to move her family as soon as a unit in another building is ready, but it has been a slow process.
Darlene Carr is one of the lucky ones. She was recently moved with her two sons and granddaughter from the moldy run-down apartment at 627 Manida Street, where they lived for three years, to a renovated unit at 621.
She smiled as she showed off her new front door that actually closes—unlike the door her old apartment. She said that she can finally sleep without worrying that someone is going to break in.
“I was living in hell,” she said, “and now I have a little piece of heaven.”
Asia Edmunds took matters into her own hands. Her husband was murdered last year, and she left town for a couple of months. When she returned to her apartment at 627 Manida, she found that squatters had trashed it. “Someone opened up our apartment,” she said. “Somebody stole all the pipes; there was no running water.”
Instead of waiting for someone to help her, she moved herself into a vacant unit in a building next door. She said the management didn’t like it at first, but is working with her now.
“I couldn’t deal with all the crack heads,” she said.
A version of this story appeared in the November issue of The Hunts Point Express.