Thursday, January 20, 2005

Boy, is it cold inside! No heat, hot water in Harlem bldg.

Boy, is it cold inside!

No heat, hot water in Harlem bldg.


Patricia Lewis sits bundled up in the kitchen of her heatless Harlem building. She has removed door on the oven, using it to heat apartment.

In the middle of winter's deepest freeze yesterday, cold air poured through a broken window in Patricia Lewis' apartment and her baseboard radiator was chilled metal.

So like virtually everyone else in her Harlem building, she tried to stay warm by cranking up her oven, which brought the midday temperature in her bedroom to just 54 degrees.

"There's no heat whatsoever in this building," said Lewis, who won't get a space heater because her wheelchair might knock it over. "I've taken the oven door off completely in order to get more heat."

The building owner - a company formed by a local church - can't be found. The manager says there's no problem. Residents say they've stopped complaining to the superintendent or the city because nothing ever changes.

So the elderly and disabled residents in the 104-unit building at W. 131st St. and Convent Ave. have to rely on their ovens to stay out of winter's icy grasp.

"I turn mine all the way up for about half an hour, and then I let it cool down," said Quits Miller, 75. "It's scary, but you do what you have to do."

Residents opened their doors to the Daily News yesterday, showing how they turn their ovens off at night for safety, sleep bundled in their clothes, and wake up in the morning like yawning icicles.

Who forces seniors and the handicapped to live their lives on "broil"? Believe it or not, the building owner is a nonprofit company formed 21 years ago by nearby St. Philip's Episcopal Church.

The Rev. Cecily Broderick said the church has no control over the company, St. Philip's on Convent Ave. Housing Development Fund Corp., which still lists the church as its mailing address in state records. But with the church's name sullied, she pledged to work with tenant leaders and city agencies to try to fix the problems.

"We are scandalized," Broderick said. "We are now an ally in their struggle."

The building is managed by Webb and Brooker Real Estate in Harlem, where officials insisted there was no heating problem.

"There's plenty of heat and hot water," site manager Dwayne Johnson said. "You're dealing with senior citizens, and some of them are a little more sensitive to temperature."

But when The News visited yesterday, the baseboard radiators in hallways and apartments ranged from lukewarm to chilly.

City housing inspectors cited the building yesterday after The News raised questions, measuring 64 degrees in one apartment and hot water at just 80 degrees in another. City regulations require a minimum interior temperature of 68 degrees between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. and 55 degrees between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Hot water should be at least 120 degrees.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is scheduled to auction the building to the highest bidder next week, because the owner is $6.5 million behind on its mortgage. Residents have a plan to take control of the building, rehab it and run it themselves, with support from the city and HUD.

It won't come soon enough for beleaguered residents like Cornelia Frazier, 81, who never knows when she'll get enough heat or hot water.

"Anybody who gets this place has to do better than the men who do it now," she said.

Originally published on January 20, 2005

Patricia Lewis

CB9M Chair's Note:
Pat, a CB9M active member, lives in St. Phillips Assisted Living Housing on Convent Avenue a building now scheduled to be auctioned off on a foreclosure action. The Tenants Association of which Pat is the President has been fighting, with the support of SRO Law, UHAB and CATCH to convince HUD to transfer the building to HPD which would then transfer the building to Community Assited Tenant Control Housing (better known as CATCH) which will convert the building to a Mutual Housing Association (MHA) after rehabilitating the very run-down and mis-managed building. As a MHA the Tenants will have control over the property overseen by CATCH as their sponsor will provide Assisted Living and social programs to the seniors and disabled residents. Pat will address the issue tonight at CB9M Public session. JRM

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