Housing / News

Hunts Point’s house of horrors

Manida Street building is among city’s worst


Tenant leader Alberto Rodriguez shows a vacant apartment, trashed by intruders who ripped the door off.

By James Bachhuber

jamesbachhuber@gmail.com

A limp paw protruded from a partially closed hide-a-bed in an abandoned first floor apartment at 627 Manida Street. Alberto Rodriguez flipped the mattress over and the stink hit like a punch to the throat. The disemboweled corpse of a cat lay there.

Rodriguez sighed at the discovery, dismayed, but not shocked. After 16 years as a resident of the four-building complex at 621-623 and 625-627 Manida Street, he’s seen his share of horrors.

City records show the 112-unit complex has more than 2,000 outstanding violations. In November, the city named 627 Manida one of the 200 worst multi-family dwellings in New York.

Now residents have organized a tenants association and formed a partnership with the Hunts Point Alliance for Children (HPAC). They have begun legal action to force the buildings’ owner to make repairs.

The buildings are sturdy redbrick structures that display a battered dignity. But their heavy front doors no longer lock, the black and white tile floors are faded dirty grey, and the thick marble steps are chipped and cracked, some so badly that light from the floor below shines through them.

The doors to many apartments have been knocked off their hinges, and some units have gaps between the top of their walls and the ceiling. Years of neglect are visible. Maria Sanchez’s apartment in 625 is typical. The plaster is crumbling. Thick patches of mold blot the walls of her children’s bedroom. It is infested with roaches and mice.

On March 11, 16 residents of the complex joined lawyers from HPAC and the Urban Justice Center in Bronx Housing Court in the first skirmish of a legal battle against the buildings’ owners and managers.

“You can’t live in a situation like this,” said Dayleen Carr, a resident of 625 Manida, as she waited outside the courtroom. She says her three-year-old granddaughter Heavyn has asthma, eczema and lead poisoning. The mold problem in Heavyn’s room got so bad Carr moved her to a different room. There’s mold in the bathroom, as well, and plaster falling from the ceiling.

Electrical problems plague many apartments, and to deal with the broken electrical outlets in her bathroom, Carr plugged an extension cord into a living room socket and set a lamp next to her sink. Every window has cracks, she says, and some are boarded up to keep out the cold, a necessary step considering tenants claim the buildings were without heat or hot water for much of the winter.

“We didn’t have heat for Christmas or New Years,” said resident Tamara Taylor, and the problem wasn’t solved until the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) began making regular fuel deliveries in the middle of January.

Some residents also worry about crime in the building. Tenants say prostitutes and drug dealers regularly use the many vacant apartments. In some, thieves have stripped the metal work, including radiators and window casings, for sale to local scrap metal dealers.

On the roof of 627, Rodriguez pointed to a bare metal platform. He explained that a cell phone carrier had installed antennas there, but “crack heads came and stole everything.”

Last November, 627 Manida was placed in the housing department’s Alternative Enforcement Program, a two-year-old initiative that empowers the city to intervene in the 200 worst multi-family buildings.

While only 627 Manida qualified for AEP classification, all four buildings, which stand as two joined pairs, are severely troubled. 621-623 Manida has 999 violations including 200 classified as immediately hazardous, and 625-627 has 1,014 violations, including 329 immediately hazardous.

Rodriguez began organizing tenants after he was fired as the porter, because, he says, he complained that he wasn’t being given the supplies necessary to do his job. “I was tired of dream selling,” he said.

After the other tenants filed court papers, Rodriguez met Jill Roche, an attorney with Hunts Point Alliance for Children.

While HPAC’s primary mission is educational, after seeing the terrible conditions in the buildings Roche approached Maryann Hedaa, the managing director of HPAC, who agreed the organization needed to get involved.

Because Roche’s specialty is education law, she sought the aid of Marie Tatro, a supervising attorney with the Urban Justice Center, which has filed two other tenant cases against subsidiaries of Ocelot Capital Group, the buildings’ owner of record. On March 11, Tatro and Roche led the tenants into Bronx Housing Court.

While the tenants don’t expect the building’s problems to be solved overnight, they are confident their use of the court system will produce results. At the hearing, the landlord’s lawyer Kenneth Rosen agreed that by March 19, the 10 worst violations would be fixed. They include securing the front door to 627 and locking all vacant apartments. (Rosen declined to answer questions from The Express.)

If the violations are not addressed, the building’s owner will be in contempt of court and the tenants will prepare for a trial regarding the other allegations they’ve made.

In addition, in early March, the Alternative Enforcement Program’s four-month grace period expired, and since all necessary repairs had not been made, the city will begin seeking contractors to perform them, billing the owner.

 

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