MAKING PLEASANTRIES

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Last week brought sweet victory for over a hundred East Harlem families, as the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it would fix and sell the Pleasant East apartment complex rather than rip the buildings down.

For years, the tenants of these eight buildings had endured lousy conditions and a negligent landlord. When he finally defaulted on his federally insured mortgage earlier this year, HUD planned to shutter the development and relocate the tenants, citing “horrendous conditions” that might cost as much as $9 million to fix.

But the tenants, working with the community group ACORN, dug in their heels, commissioning an alternate contractor’s estimate to prove the buildings were worth saving. “We won’t leave,” said tenant Josefa Garcia, who has lived in the complex for 25 years. “We’ll fight to the end.”

The tenants, determined to stay in their apartments, had kept the pressure on the housing officials, and successfully marshaled the support of heavy-hitting politicians like Congressman Charles Rangel. A little more than a week ago, HUD decided to keep the buildings open.

Now, HUD is making the most urgent repairs, and preparing the buildings for foreclosure and sale. Although ACORN has been working closely with the tenants, HUD may choose not to pick the community group to buy and manage the buildings. Other potential buyers are interested, and the housing department is now accepting offers. “We made it clear to HUD that [rehabilitating the buildings] was totally financially feasible,” laughed ACORN housing director Ismene Speliotis. “Now everybody and their brother wants them.”