Many New Yorkers were busy plugging leaks during Aprilâ€™s record-breaking rain storm, but for Lydia Vega and her family, the downpour only made a bad situation worse.
“It was like it was raining in the apartment,” said Denise Rivera, 21, who lives with her mother in the problem-plagued Hunts Point I complex on Coster Street in the Bronx.
Leaks are nothing new for Vega, who pointed to three spots where rainwater routinely pours from her ceiling. For months, the sharp odor of mold from a four-foot-wide leak above her kitchen stove has permeated her apartment, overpowering the smell of dinner cooking. “This has been happening for years,” Vega said. “This isn’t just right now.”
The South East Bronx Community Organization (SEBCO), a non-profit company that manages the four buildings in the privately owned, federally subsidized Hunts Point I complex, has promised Vega a new apartment. And the City Council is calling for a $50 million fund to make repairs in similar buildings around the city.
But Vega and other tenants at Hunts Point I contend the leaks and other problems are widespread, and say they are tired of waiting for management â€“ and the government – to step in. Hunts Point I residents complain they routinely go without heat or hot water.
Vegaâ€™s building, 717 Coster, is widely considered in the worst shape of the four and is a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes, tenants said.
A few months ago, the front door lock disappeared. Until recently, a piece of wire served as the door handle. There is still no lock.
â€œItâ€™s really frightening,â€ said Mildred Colon, the president of the complexâ€™s tenants association. Management does some patch jobs, she said, but the problems return: â€œThings are just getting worse.â€
David Post, a SEBCO vice president, declined numerous requests for comment in person, by phone and by e-mail.
Quinn Steps In
But others are taking notice: On April 5, Speaker Christine Quinn added $50 million to the City Councilâ€™s proposed 2007 budget to rehabilitate buildings like Huntâ€™s Point I.
Although the speakerâ€™s proposal did not single out specific developments, the money would be distributed in $25 million chunks over two years and go toward repairs for buildings that receive Section 8 subsidies from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Section 8 program caps rent at 30 percent of a familyâ€™s household income.
The funds would target buildings in danger of foreclosure by HUD â€“ structures in poor physical and financial condition â€“ and require that rents stay affordable.
Documents show that on January 16, 2007, HUD sent a foreclosure notice to SEBCO and the building owner, Samuel Pompa, after Huntâ€™s Point I failed an inspection.
â€œIf we continue to lose low-income housing because of dilapidated buildings, we’re going to see more people living on the streets,â€ said Quinn. â€œWe hope that this funding will keep affordable housing both safe and available for New Yorkers.â€
In recent years, the cityâ€™s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has worked with HUD, tenants, housing advocates and developers to transfer distressed buildings to responsible owners. In this scenario, tenants take an active role by choosing a non-profit developer to purchase the buildings and make repairs. In April, the tenants association at Hunts Point I selected Nos Quedamos (Spanish for â€œwe stayâ€), a non-profit community development organization in the Bronx.
Picking a non-profit developer, however, does not solve all the problems facing Hunts Point I.
In a 2005 rule change, HUD may not take into account the estimated cost of repairs when arriving at a sale price for a building in foreclosure. The agency also has eliminated up-front grants that in past years paid for rehabilitation costs.
Hunts Point I will require $10 million of repairs, housing advocates estimate. Without Quinnâ€™s $50 million repair fund, housing advocates contend, only private developers could afford to buy Hunts Point I and buildings like it. To turn a profit, those new owners would likely raise rents beyond the means of many tenants, the advocates say.
The proposed funding â€œfills a gap that keeps these buildings affordable,â€ said Deb Howard, director of the Pratt Area Community Council, a Brooklyn-based affordable housing development and advocacy group. She estimated there are more than 80 HUD-subsidized complexes in danger of foreclosure citywide.
In the meantime, conditions at Hunts Point I continue to deteriorate, tenants said.
In March, a steam pipe exploded in an unoccupied apartment next door to Sara Lind. Lind, who lives on the first floor of 717 Coster, said she called the Fire Department.
The firefighters shut down the buildingâ€™s boiler, but not before ripping up the walls and revealing water damage throughout the neighboring apartmentâ€™s ceilings, floors and walls, she said. Lind worries that her apartment could be next.
A leak in her ceiling was patched this year, and the same spot is damp again.
“We’re so tired of hearing the stories,” said Lind. “We’re in this predicament already, we need help right now.”