Hope grows on Kelly Street

Angely Mercado

Tenants and dignitaries gathered to celebrate the renovation of 935 Kelly Street.


Tenants move back in to renovated apartments

A year ago, nothing Jessica Morales did could keep the smell of rotting garbage out of her Kelly Street apartment.

The stench of garbage piled in the hallways of the 30-unit building at 935 Kelly Street seeped under her door.

“I lit candles and cleaned, but nothing worked. The inside always smelled like the hallways,” Morales said.

Today, she uses the candles to decorate her refurbished living room. The only odor that greets a visitor is a subtle combination of air freshener and furniture polish. New hardwood floors gleam.

Once, the building was infested with “rats that looked like cats,” Morales said. Junkies squatted and garbage was strewn all over the halls.

But in 2011, after the community development organization Banana Kelly Improvement Association and the Longwood-based advocacy organization Mothers on the Move helped organize the tenants at 935 and four neighboring buildings on Kelly Street, the foreclosed properties were purchased by Workforce Housing Advisers, which specializes in renovating troubled buildings. It retained  Banana Kelly as a partner in the project to provide  support services to the residents and Winn Management to provide property management services.

Storefront stays vacant

The Banana Kelly Improvement Association had hoped to find a special tenant for the storefront at 935 Kelly Street. It advertised for a business that would improve health and nutrition by increasing awareness of healthy food options and making them available.

Although it offered to cut the rent by 75 percent, “the responses we got were not very good,” said Harry DeRienzo, the organization’s president.

So while the offer remains open, the project is on hold.

Residents began moving into temporary housing in January 2012. They began moving back this spring. Workforce Housing and Banana Kelly held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 21.

It was amazingly quick,” said Harry DeRienzo, the president of Banana Kelly about the process. “Once we had our partners in place, after that went through it took 16 months.”

“I didn’t want to come back at first, “said Morales. “I went through a lot of things here.”

Despite the nightmarish memories, Morales returned with her 13 year old daughter on March 7, and has since fallen in love with the new kitchen and how sturdy everything is.

Filbys Arzu, lives in a second floor apartment with her three children. Before Banana Kelly and Workforce took over, she said, “You could count up to 12 rats running around inside the apartment in one day.”

But for her, the vermin wasn’t the worst; living with fear was.

“There weren’t any locks on the front door. Anyone could just come in and hang out inside the building,” she said.

“The guy that owned this building belongs in jail,” said DeRienzo of the ousted owner who allowed the building to deteriorate for so long. “He lost his building, so he probably feels like he was held accountable,” he said. But he was able to take out $5 million in mortgages. “None of that money went into the building,” DeRienzo continued. He’s “probably a millionaire now.”

In 1996, the buildings at 916, 920, 924, 928 and 935 Kelly carried a mortgage of $684,000. A series of refinances followed, each increasing the owner’s indebtedness. In 2009, Ridgewood Savings Bank granted a new loan of $5 million, according to city records.

Despite the infusion of cash, the buildings continued to deteriorate. At the ribbon-cutting, Marie Graziano, a coordinator at Banana Kelly, said that she has seen other buildings that had deteriorated, but she has “never seen anything as bad as 935.” Con Edison wasn’t even able to go into the basement because of “puddles, sewage and rats,” she said.

“There were people taking insulin and the refrigerators were not working. We had to take care of those right away,” said Graziano.

Both she and Kevin Gallagher of Workforce Housing Advisors recalled a woman with a new born baby and no heat in her apartment. “She had no living room window and only a blanket to keep out the cold,” said Gallagher.

Now, the 30 apartments in 935 Kelly St. are being filled with hopeful tenants. Since moving back in, Arzu has a new found peace of mind. “They changed everything,” she said. “I feel as if I’m in another building altogether.”

At the ribbon-cutting, several residents expressed their gratitude toward Banana Kelly.

Miranda Sills, told the crowd of living with “no fridge, no stove and no power.” Now, thanks to the renovations, Sills is eager to move in and enjoy her apartment.

Morales stepped forward and addressed the crowd with a shy smile. “Compared to what I had before,” she said, “I have a mansion now.”

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