City Calls Group Second Banana

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In an effort to get Banana Kelly away from buildings that have fallen into disrepair over the last decades, the city last week gave the Bronx-based group a month to pay more than half a million dollars in back taxes and water and sewer charges–or they’ll face losing the properties.

This move came a week after Banana Kelly Chair Yolanda Rivera tried to end her group’s contract with the current managing agent, the Building Management Association, a subsidiary of the South East Bronx Community Organization. [“Banana Kelly Takes a U-Turn in the Bronx,” May 27]. Last March, Banana Kelly entered a five-year agreement with SEBCO to manage 22 of its buildings while Banana Kelly dealt with other problems, including an ongoing investigation by the state attorney general’s office.

However, said Rivera, after getting numerous complaints from tenants about BMA and their living conditions, ranging from cold radiators to evictions, Rivera said that the boards of the Housing Development Fund Corporations which own the buildings unanimously decided it was time to find new management. (Rivera is president of each.)

“It is the decision of that board that based on the failure of BMA to respond to those requests, we are going to terminate the contract,” Rivera explained at a Community Board 2 meeting last week.

With just a couple of weeks notice, Rivera then moved to replace BMA with F y G Management, another Bronx-based company. She sent letters to tenants telling them to send their June rent checks to the new manager. Those plans have been at least temporarily stymied: F y G principal Robert Garcia backed away from the arrangement last week. Calls to his office were not returned.

But the city remains as determined as ever to get the buildings from Banana Kelly, dismissing Rivera’s arguments about BMA’s incompetence. Since January, HPD and the mayor’s office have both asked Rivera to transfer the title of the 22 buildings to SEBCO, and have told SEBCO the city will not invest the estimated $8 million needed to renovate the 550 apartments until Banana Kelly does so.

Last week, the city took a step toward getting at least some of the buildings away from Banana Kelly. In a certified letter, HPD gave the group until July 4 to pay off the $663,841 it owes in back taxes and water and sewer charges on 10 of its buildings. If the group fails to do that, the city will either move to foreclose, transfer the properties to another entity, or appoint new members to Banana Kelly’s board of directors.

Rivera had yet to receive that notice at press time, but said through a spokesperson that she is determined to get the $2.8 million she claims the city owes her in Section 8 funding. HPD insists she never submitted the paperwork needed to collect that money.

Meanwhile, several of the tenants who crowded into the community board meeting last week said they don’t want Banana Kelly or BMA. They just want their homes to improve. Said one tenant, who would not give her name, “I’ve been waiting five months to get a floor in my apartment.”