TRANSFER MANIA

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Without any official announcement, the city’s housing agency last week quietly launched its long-delayed program to move tax-defaulted buildings into private hands. Although contracts have yet to be handed out, a few housing groups have been tapped to take over 27 of the most dilapidated buildings in the South Bronx under the city’s third-party transfer program.

About 200 for-profit and nonprofit housing groups scrambled to put bids in when the city called for proposals last winter. At least two of the winners heard from the city last week–nonprofit community housing groups Belmont-Arthur Local Development Corporation and Parodneck’s Community Assisted Tenant Controlled Housing (CATCH).

The transfer program, which moves ownership of distressed buildings whose landlords have quit paying taxes to responsible third parties, replaced the city’s in rem policy about three years ago. At the height of the in rem program, the housing agency managed thousands of buildings taken from deadbeat landlords. The 27 South Bronx buildings are the first to be transferred under the new system.

In this first round, Belmont-Arthur is slated to get 14 mostly smaller buildings that are partially or completely vacant; CATCH will probably work with three buildings that are now being run as low-income co-ops. “We’re going to be reaching out in the next week or so with the few tenants that remain,” said Joe Cicciu, Belmont-Arthur’s executive director. “The buildings are in terrible condition, but we knew that. We’ll try to make their living conditions as comfortable as possible.”

But the tenants, who have been in legal limbo since the transfer process started last fall, must wait a bit longer. Under the law that governs this process, the City Council is allotted another 45 days to nix the plan, and the transfer doesn’t have to be finished for another four months. So far, neither the Council nor the Bronx borough president, who traditionally has influence over land use decisions, has yet been officially notified of the agency’s decisions.