City Condemns Concourse Apartments, November 1987

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During the 1970s and 1980s, nothing symbolized urban decay more than a vacant lot–there were an estimated 25,000 citywide–and nowhere were they more numerous than the Bronx. Overgrown with weeds and strewn with trash, the lots were all that remained after buildings were torched by arsonists or razed by landlords who had given up on maintaining them during an era of economic decline, drugs and crime.

But more than a few of those tracts were produced by the city of New York itself. The city took a close look at hundreds of structurally damaged buildings it owned throughout the five boroughs, which had been repossessed from landlords who had failed to pay taxes. If they cost more to repair than they did to demolish, the city housing agency simply tore them down, under a policy called “consolidation.”

One building near the Grand Concourse almost made it. In 1987, City Limits chronicled the efforts of the residents of 1244 Grant Avenue to prevent the city from tearing down their building–one of just two standing on the three-block stretch between 167th and 170th streets. The tenants brought in their own engineer to make the case that fixing the damaged foundation of the 70-unit apartment house was less expensive than the city contended.

They held on for 10 more years amid the rubble. “It was kind of old; it didn’t have good conditions,” recalls resident Johanna Delossantos. Still, it remained fully occupied, with predominantly poor tenants. Then, in the early morning of January 18, 1997, the building was seared by a fire that started in the boiler room. No tenants were injured, but about half the building was charred. The city demolished 1244 Grant a month later.

In the middle of the Bronx’s building boom–66,000 apartments built or rehabilitated in the last two decades–these three blocks have remained empty, one of the last tracts of vacant land in the area. That is supposed to change. Five years ago, Councilmember Wendell Foster secured funding to begin construction on a park covering the block between 169th and 170th streets; the project has been held up as city crews finish repairs in other parks nearby.

Meanwhile, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development is close to designating a developer to build two apartment buildings and up to two dozen two- and three- family low-rise condominiums on the site, under the New York City Housing Partnership New Homes program. They will be targeted for moderate- and middle-income owners.

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