Buildings’ troubles threaten tenants

'We’re going back to what happened in the 70s and 80s, to landlord abandonment,' warned Community Board 2’s chair.

By Meredith Deliso

For more than a year and a half, blue scaffolding has thrown a shadow over the entrance to the six-story apartment buildings at 739 and 741 Coster Street. In the gloom, drug dealers and prostitutes have found welcome concealment. Inside the buildings, evidence of their trade – used needles and condoms – lie in hallways and laundry rooms.

A clan of raccoons has also found the supports a good place to build a nest. They have become a constant nuisance since the scaffolding, which also covers fire escapes, was erected, for repairs which have never been made.

Inside the buildings, plumbing is so bad one resident has to bathe in her neighbor’s apartment, and faulty boilers cause further problems for the tenants. At 741 Coster Street, tenants have been without heat and hot water since October.

Windows and walls are also in need of repairs.

Conditions weren’t always like this, though. Sometime over the past 10 years, things began to change for the worse.

Mildred Colon, who has lived at 739 Coster Street for 24 years, says her building and others nearby managed by the South East Bronx Community Organization (SEBCO) have been deteriorating for years, but problems have become acute over the last 36 months.

Things have gotten so bad that the chairman of Community Board 2 now compares the conditions to the neighborhood’s worst era. “We’re going back to what happened in the 70s and 80s, to landlord abandonment,” said Roberto Garcia at the board’s meeting on Nov. 27. “The buildings need to be repaired and the people protected.”

Colon formed the United We Stand Tenant Association in October 2005 in an attempt to improve the conditions for the 118 families who live at 739 Coster Street, as well as 717 and 741 Coster Street and 671 Manida Street, which together comprise what is known as Hunt’s Point 1.

“We have no security,” said Colon. “I haven’t seen an exterminator in two months.”

The buildings are owned by Samuel Pompa, but SEBCO, a housing and social services provider that boasts of the role it has played in rescuing the South Bronx, has been responsible for them for the last 25 years.

SEBCO did not return calls seeking comment, but according to tenants, at a meeting with them on Oct. 10, David Post, executive vice president of SEBCO’s Building Management Associates, promised that repairs would be made. They haven’t been.

The buildings’ financial condition is as worrisome as its physical condition. Citing the deterioration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has reduced the rent. SEBCO, which is behind on its mortgage, told the community board that the reduction in income has contributed to its inability to secure a bank loan.

To find a way out of the dilemma, SEBCO is looking into forming a partnership with a Bronx-based builder of affordable housing, Galaxy Constrution, Post told tenants at the October meeting.

In the worst case scenario, said Joyce Culler, chair of the community board’s housing and land use committee, the city would obtain the mortgage and sell the buildings to a new owner. If that were to happen, Culler warned, the tenants would then be threatened with losing their homes.

Currently, tenants pay 30% of their income in rent and HUD pays the rest, under the federal Section 8 subsidized housing program. If a new owner did not qualify for this program, the tenants would have to apply for rent subsidy vouchers, and Culler worries that many current tenants might not qualify, based on their income and credit status or because of a criminal record.

“Where they’re going to live is in jeopardy,” said Culler. “Where do they go? There’s a lot of fear, concerns about that. As bad as the conditions are there, many of them remember the good times. They don’t even want to leave. Some patch up their own holes in the wall.”

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