Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fire Dept. Orders Windermere Tenants Out

Date: Sat, 06 Oct 2007 06:34:46 -0400
From: "Tenant"
Subject: NYC Evictions in wake of Olympics Displacement/Development environment

Note: The Windermere is NYC's oldest existing multiple dwelling,
constructed even before the legendary Dakota apartments, and has been
an eyesore for many years (due to owner neglect). Seven tenants have
held out for many years. Because the exterior of the building shows
substantial neglect, public opinion is not significantly with the
remaining tenants, but more so on what sort of store might end up in
the storefronts to satisfy the yuppie constituents of Gale Brewer
(whose main district is much further north in the Disneyfied Upper West Side.
This is a perfect example of the Olympics displacement and
development environment that continues long after NYC lost it's bid
for the 2012 Olympics. (they really wanted the pro-development
environment, not necessarily the Olympics)

Both NYC Council Member Gale Brewer and local NGO Housing
Conservation Coordinators (HCC) have been instrumental in creating an
environment of eviction and displacement, making deals with
developers and developer-controlled politicians. HCC's budget was
substantially increased by City Council after it changed to
pro-development and pro-landlord policies during the Olympics bid
period. They also run the Astroturf (fake grass-roots) group created
by City Council Speaker Quinn and developer Joe Restuccia and which
supports constructing more than 25 skyscrapers in Hell's Kitchen,
expected to create significant displacement.

While individual tenants might find temporary safety (and be
ghetto-ized and warehoused), they will likely lose their apartments
and the building will likely be turned over to a developer who can
use related air rights to construct more luxury towers. Speculation
is that developer Joe Restuccia (part of Scott Stringer's corrupt
Community Board 4) and HCC have already made a deal involving the
Windermere. Although the building was recently landmarked, that can
be somewhat overcome (and the landmark designation might still be
under appeal).

Luxury condos can easily replace what was affordable housing.
NYC is famous for using it's Police and Fire Departments as political
tools to "save" tenants who have suffered through decades of owner
abuse and neglect. Usually at the behest of a local politician (who
in turn act for developers), the Fire Department "suddenly" finds
life-threatening conditions forcing tenants out. Rarely do they get
their apartments back and most do not have the financial resources to
obtain competent legal counsel. (public interest lawyers rarely have
the time to devote to complicated cases such as this). Usually the
Fire Department is not called in until the political deal is signed
and delivered. Only question is how much did the politicians get from this.

Such displacement is more and more common in NYC. The Windermere case
rises above the radar only because of the length of the tenant
struggle, the landmark status of the building and the location (9th
Ave. and 57th Street) which is coveted by developers.

New York Times
September 22, 2007

Fire Dept. Orders Windermere Tenants Out

The last remaining residents -- seven in all -- of the storied and
ill-starred Windermere in Midtown Manhattan were unexpectedly
evacuated earlier this week after Fire Department inspectors found
unsafe conditions in the nearly vacant eight-story complex built as a
showcase in 1881.

The tenants' temporary removal is the latest chapter in one of the
city's longest and most labyrinthine struggles between a landlord and
tenants, which has driven out most of the residents in the building,
leaving only the poorest and most disabled, who pay little or no rent.
On Wednesday evening, Fire Department inspectors found "unsafe
conditions" at the Windermere, at 57th Street and Ninth Avenue, a
department spokesman said.

The tenants in six units, a man and woman living together and five
other people, were taken to the Skyline Hotel, on 10th Avenue at 49th
Street, where they remain.

Gail A. Brewer, a City Council member who represents the area and who
has worked with residents at the building since the 1980s, said the
residents were not evicted from the Windermere, which was declared a
city landmark in 2005 as an example of one of the first apartment
buildings in New York.

"The tenants moved at the mandate of the Fire Department and at my
urging," Councilwoman Brewer said yesterday. "The tenants moved out
temporarily to the hotel, which the American Red Cross is kindly
putting them up at." The residents cannot return to the building
until the problems are remedied.

Councilwoman Brewer said the move was unexpected but had come after
decades of neglect by the landlord, Toa Construction Company of
Tokyo, one of the largest construction companies in Japan.

Most of the hundreds of apartments are vacant and padlocked, said
Councilwoman Brewer, who said she had visited the Windermere many
times over the years. The landlord supplies water, heat and
electricity for the remaining tenants, but spends little on repair
and maintenance, she said.

"The rest is rubble," she said. Pigeons fly into the building through
broken windows. Elevators wobble and shake. Debris is everywhere. She
said the Fire Department inspection on Wednesday, although
unexpected, seemed a fair assessment.

"It looks like you're living in Beirut" during the 1980s civil war,
she said. "Nobody would pay rent under these conditions."

It was unclear whether Toa Construction had offices or
representatives in New York. Ms. Brewer said that despite repeated
attempts, she had never been able to speak with anyone who worked for
the company.

Housing Conservation Coordinators, a nonprofit legal services group,
said it was helping the last tenants seek legal remedies, but was not
yet officially representing them. On Thursday, the tenants filed a
lawsuit in housing court seeking to compel the landlord to make repairs.
Bennett Baumer, a tenant organizer with Housing Conservation, said
the tenants might appear in court by Friday.

The Windermere was last in the news in December 2006, when a tenant
won, on appeal, the right to remain at the building.

The tenant, Michael Tsitsires, was said to be homeless and mentally
ill. He lived in a $104-a-month apartment and was one of the tenants
evacuated on Wednesday.

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