Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Harlem Tenants Get Heat, No Deed

Click here: Columbia Spectator Online - Harlem Tenants Get Heat, No Deedhttp://www.columbiaspectator.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2005/01/31/41fddfaa1ad99?in_archive=1


Harlem Tenants Get Heat, No Deed

St. Philip's Residents Protest Against Landlords, Petition to Control Deed

By Tanveer Ali
Spectator Staff Writer
January 31, 2005

As heating returns to an old apartment building in Harlem, residents are still in the cold about the fate—or even the actual owner—of their building.

According to tenants of St. Philip’s on Convent, the building has plunged into despair because the owners have neglected it since buying it in the mid-1980’s, They have also failed to make payments on its mortgage to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a government organization that supports home ownership and community development.

HUD, the federal housing overseer, issued a foreclosure notice threatening to repossess the building and to put it up for auction. Tenants were informed of this notice in May 2004 by St. Philip’s Housing Development Fund Corporation, the owners of the building, and by Webb & Brooker, Inc., the building’s managing agent.

The building was scheduled to go to auction last Wednesday, but due to a filing error by HUD, the auction has been postponed.

Now tenants of St. Philips, a low-income housing residence for senior citizens and the disabled located at the corner of 131st Street and Convent Avenue, are working with various community groups to convince HUD to transfer the deed of the building to them. This would give them the ability both to manage and begin rehabilitating their building.

Patricia Lewis, the tenant president, said that the tenants voted to lobby HUD for the transfer. HUD will hand the building to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which would then pass it to the Community Assisted Tenant Controlled Housing Inc. (CATCH), a housing organization which, as a Mutual Housing Association project, would give tenants control of the building’s board.

According to Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, president of the Housing Development Fund Corporation, CATCH has put together a financial and rehabilitation package to aid the transfer of the building’s deed.

Residents have a series of complaints about the building— chief among them a lack of heating during winter months. Last weekend, HPD repaired boilers and the building’s chimney, charging repairs to St. Philip’s HDFC. While heat is not fully restored, it has kept residents from seeking alternative sources of warmth.

Living in her apartment at St. Philip’s on Convent this winter was a struggle for resident Lena Calley.

“I was cold every day,” she said. “And the only way you can get warm was turn your oven on.”

“Senior citizens really don’t complain about anything,” Patricia Lewis said. “But when you have unscrupulous landlords, just people who defraud, collect money, and don’t do anything, you have to do something.”

According to Reyes-Montblanc, the building is in violation of the stipulations for Section 8-based assisted living housing, which state that landlords of this kind of subsidized housing must provide an adequate standard of living and maintenance for their tenants. He estimated that in order to redeem the building, the owners would have to pay about $4.5 million in repairs and $6.3 million in debt owed to HUD for the mortgage.

The building is one of three that house seniors and disabled persons that are reportedly owned by St. Philip’s HDFC, all of which, according to tenants, have fallen into disrepair.

The question of who is responsible for the repairs and mortgage of St. Philip’s is open to debate.

Lewis and other tenants claim that St. Philip’s Episcopal Church on W. 134th Street is indirectly the owner. Last Wednesday, about 20 people held a rally at the church to protest its alleged involvement with the HDFC.

But Rev. Dr. Cecily Broderick, the priest in charge of the Church, said that the HDFC is an independent corporation. She noted that more than 35 years ago, the Church designated land and building plots for rehabilitation and later handed over to the not-for-profit HDFC, which sought to provide the Harlem community with affordable housing.

While tenants believe the similarly-named HDFC is indirectly owned by the church, Broderick said she thinks the name was kept only in honor of the church.

“I don’t know why they protested at the church,” said Broderick. “If [the owners] are invisible to the tenants, something is wrong.”

She added that Webb & Brooker, the buildings managers, should be the focus of the protests and complaints with respect to all three of the buildings owned by the HDFC.

Webb & Brooker refused to comment.

Lewis said that as a result of the rally, Broderick publicly allied herself with the tenants’ causes. Broderick maintains that she has no say with the HDFC board, but said she morally agreed that the tenants at all three buildings deserve better housing.

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