Mayor Bloomberg Announces New Housing Initiative from Bronx News Network on Vimeo.
Above, Mayor Bloomberg discusses a new way the city plans to drive landlords to repair housing violations.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in the Bronx today to announce a new city housing initiative largely inspired by the Milbank properties--the now infamous 10 neglected apartment buildings in the northwest Bronx that have been falling apart since foreclosure two years ago.
The Mayor made the announcement this morning at Our Lady Of Angels Church, on Webb Avenue in Kingsbridge Heights, before a crowd of Milbank tenants and organizers from the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, who have been fighting for almost a year to draw the city's attention to the deteriorating buildings (here's a short summary for some background.)
The new "Proactive Preservation" program will essentially allow the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to more aggressively identify and inspect distressed properties, intervening to make repairs if necessary, in the hopes of preventing another Milbank scenario from taking place.
"While the work our housing inspectors do is very good, it can sometimes be too little, too late, or both," Bloomberg said.
HPD will glean data--like outstanding tax and water arrears, nearby foreclosures and notices from local officials and community group--to flag trouble properties and then intervene to stabilize them. A newly formed 10-person "Proactive Enforcement Bureau" will perform "floor-to-cellar" inspections on buildings, according to a statement.
The city took similar action with Milbank's buildings after HPD Commissioner Rafael Cestero took a tour of them in October.
"We're very excited that they're doing this," said Gregory Lobo Jost, Deputy Director at the University Neighborhood Housing Program. UNHP also developed an its Building Indicator Project database, which draws on violations records, city liens, and other building information to zero in on distressed buildings--much like the plan the city has proposed.
The Mayor also proposed a plan for City Council to grant the city the power to sell Emergency Repair Program liens that exist on a property to a third party collector (see video above), who would then be in charge of collecting on the debt—saving taxpayer money from footing the bills for emergency repairs and possibly giving landlords more incentive to make repairs themselves.
While this all sounds like good news, many Milbank tenants say they’re still frustrated by conditions in their own apartments.
“I’m very divided on what the Mayor just said,” said Rev. Peter Silva, who lives in a Milbank building on Aqueduct Avenue. He called the city’s initiative “great” but said it did little to reassure him.
“The building’s falling apart,” he said. “I understand they have a big job in front of them…but we’ve been in foreclosure for two years already. The tenants are the ones suffering.”
Local nonprofit housing developer Belmont Arthur Avenue LDC, under the receivership of its director Joseph Cicciu, was appointed by the courts to collect rent and make repairs on the Milbank buildings after foreclosure started, though tenants report the agency has not been effective in responding to their requests.
This fall, Cicciu told the Norwood News that “there just aren’t the dollars,” to fix everything that’s wrong in the 10 properties, which have—at HPD's latest count—almost 5,000 violations among them.
HPD said this fall that the city had already begun making emergency repairs on the most hazardous violations. The agency is still pressing LNR Property LLC, the servicer to the loan attached to the buildings, to sell them to a "responsible owner" (LNR was been looking to sell the buildings for months).
"How much longer will I have to live the way I'm living?" asked 72-year-old Gloria Thomas, who also lives in Milbank's Aqueduct Avenue apartments, where tenants say they often go days without heat.
"I've been in this building for 31 years," Thomas said. "It used to be a beautiful building."
Below, watch a clip of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Sr., describe how the Milbank mess began--what he calls a "criminal, criminal act," on the part of predatory housing lenders.
BP Diaz on Bronx Housing from Bronx News Network on Vimeo.