A new Bronx tenants group is organizing residents in one crumbling building to get their home fixed up—even if it takes an outside manager or the mortgage-holding bank to do the job.
The Highbridge Community Life Center was surveying area living conditions last year when organizer Marcus Walton walked into the 36-unit building at 1030 Woodycrest Avenue. “It was one of the worst buildings I’ve ever seen,” said Walton. A tenant, Cindy Velez, elaborates: “The waterbugs are half the size of my finger. There’s brown mold like little mushrooms. One day, my whole bathroom ceiling fell down.” Peeling paint puts Velez’ baby at risk for lead poisoning, and similar dangers plague the entire building: City records show it has 359 violations, including 74 classed as “C,” the most serious level.
Velez and other 1030 Woodycrest tenants—along with residents from six other buildings—have been organizing under the rubric of the Highbridge Tenants Council. The council started last year with the help of the Highbridge Community Life Center, when the Bronx group realized that housing quality is one of the neighborhood’s primary concerns.
Highbridge Tenants Council has since gotten Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión’s office to ask the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to assign a 7A administrator—a manager appointed by the city—to take over the 1030 Woodycrest property from landlord Frank Palazzolo, and to oversee repairs. Two weeks ago, Carrión also contacted Washington Mutual, the mortgage holder of the property, to alert it to the substandard conditions.
By then, bank representatives had already inspected the building at Highbridge Tenants Council’s request—and so had HPD. Spokesperson Carol Abrams said HPD sued landlord Palazzolo last year to get him to fix the violations, and the case is pending. (Palazzolo did not return calls by press time.) As for appointing a 7A administrator, she said, HPD isn’t sure the building is decrepit enough to go that route. But, Abrams added, tenants can directly petition housing court for a 7A administrator.
That’s what they’ve opted to do. Meanwhile, according Juan Rodriguez, a member of the Tenants Council, the landlord has been threatening residents with eviction if they get involved, and many are afraid. “But,” Rodriguez said, “we hope the council can shake their fear.”