City: Building Doesn’t Fit Mold

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Some things only change a little.

Nearly a decade after City Limits first featured Hudson Piers I, a 6-story West Harlem building, in an investigation of poor conditions in government-subsidized apartments [“Malign Neglect,” January 1993], problems, from broken smoke detectors to mold, persist. And how serious those problems are depends on which government agency you ask.

Last month, the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development took the building manager of 596 Riverside Drive, E & M Associates, to court for failing to provide its tenants with heat and hot water for much of the winter. The city housing agency has 248 housing code violations on record for the building dating back to 1988.

Since then, tenants say, the heat and hot water come and go, but another problem still persists: mold. Last week, after citing E & M with 16 code violations since January for letting mold and mildew grow in one third floor apartment, the agency sued again. A Housing Court judge forced E & M to sign a stipulation promising to remove the mold.

However, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides the landlord with much of the tenants’ rent through the Section 8 program, did not think things were so bad. While a HUD inspector found the building to be less than satisfactory last fall–it scored lower than 30 out of a possible 100–inspections conducted in March showed improvements, said HUD spokesperson Adam Glantz. Common areas have been cleaned, freshly painted and equipped with a new fire alarm, he said.

“This building has had problems in the past,” said Glantz. “But from all aspects, the landlord seems to be moving in the right direction.” In fact, HUD did not know that the city housing agency had even taken the landlord to court.

As for the mold situation in the third floor apartment, Phil Steinmetz of E & M argues that it is the tenant who is causing the problems. “She doesn’t let us go in to do the mold repairs, she wants us to use a special paint,” he said. He hopes that the clean-up schedule created by the judge last week will help the situation.

“I would love them to do the work … but when they do the work, it’s shoddy,” said the tenant, Cynthia Howell.

At HUD, Glantz said his agency will stay in touch with HPD to determine how the court cases might affect the building’s Section 8 status. While particularly egregious circumstances could lead the feds to take the building out of the Section 8 program, Glantz said it is rare for HUD to do that.

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