Bed-Stuy tenants bid to evict nonprofit landlord over dire conditions
Some Brooklyn tenants battling to oust their troubled nonprofit landlord have reached a deal that could bring some relief — while others in buildings run by the group say they remain plagued by rats, broken locks and more woes.
The landlord, Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corp. (NEBHDCo), controls about 1,000 apartments in Bedford-Stuyvesant entrusted to it over the last three decades by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, along with mortgages and other aid.
Conditions in some of the nearly 100 buildings the nonprofit owns have grown so dire that then-Public Advocate Letitia James last year cited Jeffrey Dunston, NEBHDCo’s CEO, as the second-worst private landlord in the city.
As of earlier this year, court and city records show, 17 of NEBHDCo’s properties were part of HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program, which sends repair crews into the 200 most-dilapidated apartment buildings in the city.
“I am sick and tired of them and my hope is that they won’t even be able to buy property to keep dogs in,” said Debra King, who lives in one of the 17 NEBHDCo buildings on the list.
Meanwhile, NEHBDCo entities owe the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in mortgage, tax and water payments, court records show.
The nonprofit filed for bankruptcy in February with $4,222,504.20 in arrears, according to court papers, which also showed NEBHDCo buildings had racked up more than 4,000 violations.
Under an agreement reached on Sept. 25 by tenants, city housing officials and two NEBHDCo affiliates, the groups would sell off five buildings rife with housing code violations to another nonprofit, Mutual Housing Association of New York.
Another six battered properties would go to a for-profit affordable housing developer, ELH Management LLC, while NEBHDCo would restructure the debt on a Greene Avenue building years behind on its city mortgage.
‘This is our home’
The pending deal, which is subject to change, offers a glimmer of hope to low-income tenants who say they’ve long lived in miserable conditions under NEBHDCo.
“They don’t deserve to be landlords, period,” said King, who has lived in a NEBHDCo building on Mother Gaston Boulevard since 1994.
She added that conditions have grown progressively worse over the years.
“No paint jobs, I need a new stove, I need a new refrigerator, no heat, no hot water,” King, who works in mental health counseling, told THE CITY.
In 2008, she said, a rat infestation in her apartment went unaddressed for weeks. “I couldn’t even fry chicken. If I fried chicken, the rats would come up so quick before I ever got a chance to get it out of the frying pan,” she said.
Her downstairs neighbor Latoya Wiggins’ bathroom ceiling collapsed two years ago after persistent leaks. It took NEBHDCo three weeks to start repairs, she said.
“This is a bully type of thing. We can barely get them to come and clean the building,” said Wiggins, 40, a customer service agent who lives with her two children in the apartment she was raised in. “This is our home.”
Dino Perrera lives in 399 Kosciuszko St., another building enrolled in the city’s intensive care repairs program. He’s taken NEBHDCo to court “numerous times” over a leak in his bathroom that spread to his hallway and inside his linen and coat closets — costing him “thousands” in damages, he said.
But over the course of the 15 years he’s lived in the building, he said he’s noticed a pattern: NEBHDCo would not respond to his complaints. Then he would take them to court.
NEBHDCo’s workers would show up unannounced when nobody was home and then report they couldn’t gain access to the apartment, according to Perrera. HPD would eventually step in and make the repairs.
“Any recent work that was done in my apartment in the last two and a half years, any of the work was done by HPD,” Perrera told THE CITY.
Perrera added: “I shouldn’t have to go to court every single time I need repairs made.”
Harsh living conditions cited
The sales deal must still be approved by a federal bankruptcy judge presiding in a case filed by NEBHDCo affiliates Park Monroe HDFC, Northeast Brooklyn Partnership and 984-988 Greene Ave. after the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development filed for foreclosure over unpaid mortgages.
The bankruptcy also interrupted the Housing Court case filed by tenants at 12 buildings with the help of Brooklyn Legal Services. The suit cited deplorable living conditions — including rat infestations, chronic leaks, winters without heat or hot water — as well as “unfair” rent hikes in stabilized leases.
Jane Landry-Reyes, deputy director of the Tenant Rights Coalition at Brooklyn Legal Services, and the lead attorney representing the tenants in the suit, told THE CITY the tentative sales deal
“Tenants are hopeful that any new building managers will ensure their buildings are safe and habitable in the future,” she added.
CEO makes $398,000
Dunston has served as NEBHDCo’s chief executive officer for two decades and received compensation of $398,000 in 2017, tax documents show.
The stated mission of his organization, established in 1985, is: “to promote neighborhood revitalization and combat community deterioration.”
The Park Monroe buildings first came into NEBHDCo’s possession in 2002 by way of a bankruptcy trustee, with HPD’s backing, after a previous nonprofit owner failed.
According to an August court filing from city lawyers, conditions had only gotten worse in most of the buildings since the February bankruptcy filing — with the five Park Monroe buildings alone amassing 477 housing code violations among the 72 apartments.
Dunston did not respond to THE CITY’s requests for comment.
In an Aug. 14 declaration submitted by Dunston in Bankruptcy Court, he said repairs in the dozen buildings cited in the lawsuit have been “systematically addressed.”
“As with any portfolio of buildings, this is an ongoing process,” he wrote.
NEBHDCo also controls a formerly state-owned building on Fulton Street that remains derelict after four decades, despite announced plans for its development, as THE CITY reported in June.
The dozen buildings involved in the pending sales pact represent just a fraction of NEBHDCo affiliates’ apartment holdings in Bedford-Stuyvesant — nearly 1,000 units rented primarily to low-income tenants.
Those living at other NEBHDCo addresses are muddling through what HPD Deputy Commissioner Anne-Marie Hendrickson described last year in a letter to Dunston as “serious health and safety risks.”
Take 146 Marcus Garvey Blvd. — repossessed four decades ago by the city and then handed to a NEBHDCo-controlled organization in 1996 to manage apartments for homeless people and others with very low incomes. Raymond Ballard Apartments HDFC, a NEHBDCo affiliate, paid $1 cash for the building.
Records show HPD granted $48,000 in federal funds in 2011 to improve the roof, electricity and plumbing.
‘Neighbors don’t feel safe’
On a recent visit to the building, THE CITY spotted trash strewn in the stairway and the absence of locks on the doors leading into the vestibule. Jenny Cruz, 54, who has lived there with her husband for three years, said loiterers regularly smoke in the halls.
“A lot of the neighbors don’t feel safe,” Cruz said in Spanish. “They won’t even talk to you. My downstairs neighbor doesn’t answer the door to anybody.”
That neighbor, 80-year-old Reinaldo Estremera, a former superintendent elsewhere, patched a window with cardboard and electrical tape to keep out the cold air in winter.
“There’s no super in this building. I do a lot of the repairs myself,” he told THE CITY in Spanish. “Heat, in the winter? Sometimes. I have to seal the windows myself.”
Meanwhile, Cruz set up a bucket to collect water from a leak in the bathroom that she said a repair crew failed to fix. “All they did was paint over it,” she said.
At 540 Kosciuszko St., one of the buildings controlled by NEBHDCo, tenant Constance Kemp spoke of rats scurrying in the building’s basement and of her fruitless pleas to replace the missing door knobs inside her apartment.
When THE CITY visited, the buzzer at the front door of the building didn’t work and the gate was unlocked.
“I lived here a good 10 years, no problem, then everything started going down the drain,” said Kemp, who moved into the building in 1995. “I don’t understand why they don’t just do the things they’re supposed to do.”
This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
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