After seniors evicted, fuming Prospect Park Residence families head to Albany
Brooklyn landlord gave elderly tenants 90 days to get out
Friends and relatives of seniors who lived at a once-flourishing long term care facility, Prospect Park Residence (PPR) in Park Slope, are headed to Albany on March 1 to push a bill designed to protect the elderly from predatory landlords.
The families say it’s shocking that the state allows developer seeking to turn senior residences into luxury housing to kick out elderly tenants with only 30 days’ notice.
Only five seniors remain at PPR (and one of them is in the hospital at the moment).
Roughly 130 elderly residents– many more than 100 years old — were forced out in March 2015 after the facility’s owner Haysha Deitsch gave them just 90 days to find a new home. Deitsch hopes to convert the building to luxury condos, though lawsuits have slowed down his plan.
Even three months’ notice was not enough time to find a new senior facility, says Myra Melamed, whose father passed away in December at the age of 98.
Melamed said that within a few weeks of receiving eviction notices, services deteriorated and “solicitors were all over the residential floors” at PPR.
“It created such a panic. There are so few options, especially in Brooklyn” for long term care, she said. “Just to get on a waiting list takes a few months, especially for people with dementia.”
After the eviction notices went out, residents complained of harassment, closed-off rooms, water pouring through leaks in the ceiling, and rotten fruit and cheap food instead of special diets. In January 2015 the facility became infested with bedbugs, families said.
Last summer when the temperatures hit the 90s, state Supreme Court Justice Wayne Saitta ordered the landlord to turn the air conditioner back on.
Melamed said she is going to Albany “because I want some good to come out of what we’ve endured. I’m hoping we can pressure our representatives to fix a gaping hole in protection of the elderly.”
The bill, originally sponsored by former Assemblymember Joan Millman (and now being shepherded by Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon) and state Sen. Kevin Parker in 2014, would create a temporary state commission to study the effects of closures of long term care facilities on their residents and families, and would look into current regulations.
The commission will also study the need to require that facilities alert residents and their families at least a year in advance of the potential closure of the residence. (Closures would not be permitted until a year after the study was completed, in effect creating a two-year moratorium on senior facility closures.)
Sandy Reiburn, the daughter of a former PPR resident, says she and other families were dumbfounded when they learned that landlord Deitsch continued to sign contracts with unsuspecting families even after he knew the residence was closing – something she says is required by current Department of Health (DOH) regulations.
Health advocates and attorneys for the families say that DOH “rubberstamped” the closure.
Wants to tweak the bill
Reiburn says the bill, currently in the state Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, doesn’t go far enough. Her group is asking Assistant Speaker of the Assembly Felix Ortiz “to help us tweak it and get it ratified,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“We want the Department of Health’s regulations rewritten so that the minimum required notification for long term care and assisted living facilities’ closures to be one year,” she said. “By making it law, it would not only allow patients and elders to be able to plan with more options … but it would warn so-called ‘operators,’ who are usually property developers, that they cannot churn their buildings with impunity at the expense of the vulnerable, in order to profit from a hot real estate market.”
Reiburn says she is frustrated that the bill appears to be stalled two years after it was drafted, and she has contacted numerous elected officials and agencies in her quest to shine a spotlight on the need to protect elders.
While the bill has advanced to the Ways and Means Committee in the Assembly, it has not advanced in the Senate.
Asemblymember Simon says that the one year notification period could be a stumbling block.
“If an entity or operator was really going bankrupt, who picks up the tab keeping the facility open for a year?” she asked. The state could potentially be liable as a consequence, she said.
While the primary focus of the Assembly at the moment is the budget process, “I’ve been working with Ways and Means” to resolve concerns and move the bill forward, she said, adding that she spoke to committee members on Tuesday.
The process “is more complicated than people realize,” she added.
Two years is by no means an unusual length of time for a bill to work its way through the Assembly, say political pros.
And even if the bill does pass in the Assembly, it faces a bumpy road in the Senate — and an unknown fate at the hands of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The bill faces strong opposition from the industry.
In its newsletter, the Empire State Association of Assisted Living (ESAAL), which represents nursing home and assisted living facility operators, bragged at the end of 2014, “We were successful in preventing this bill from advancing further.”
In a related issue, some advocates are concerned that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” (ZQA) plan, which would spur senior housing construction, will be used as a tool by unscrupulous developers. As it stands now, new senior housing created under the plan would not be permanently affordable; the requirement would expire after 30 years.
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