Maritza Feliciano stood weeping in the doorway of her bedroom. “Where am I going to live?” cried Feliciano, tears streaming down her face. “I never did anything bad to them–why are they doing bad things to me? They are sending me out with a kick in the rear.”
Feliciano and her 8-year-old son are the last remaining tenants of the city housing agency’s Ruth Fernandez homeless shelter. In the last six months, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development moved the other 80 families out of the South Bronx shelter, after deciding not to renew its 16-year lease on the three buildings. The agency has arranged an apartment for Feliciano, but it won’t be ready for another week. Until then, she says, she and her son have nowhere else to go: Their only option is to squat in the dilapidated, vacant building.
Feliciano and her son have been caught square in the middle of a nasty fight between the housing department, the politically connected nonprofit that managed the shelter and Fox Rehab, the limited partnership that owns the buildings. HPD says its responsibility to the three buildings is finished. But Fox’s managing partner, Michael Greenberg, says the agency was a terrible tenant, trashing the buildings and leaving them in need of at least $6 million in repairs. On March 23, Greenberg filed suit against HPD and its nonprofit partner, South Bronx Management Company, for breach of contract.
From the looks of the buildings, the repair estimate sounds reasonable. The hallways in Feliciano’s building are clogged with old mattresses. Floors are buckling. The ground floor is a pile of rubble, with torn-down walls exposing wiring and beams; Greenberg said the ground floor sunk 10 inches when leaking steam pipes rotted out the supporting joists.
“It’s a real nightmare situation, out of control. And HPD has washed their hands of it,” said Greenberg, adding that he only learned last year of the damage. As part of the tax shelter lease with the city, management was contracted out to the nonprofit South Bronx Community Management Corporation. HPD spokesman Rick Lepkowski refused comment, saying that he could not speak on matters in litigation.
In the terms of the lease, HPD was supposed to return the buildings to the partnership in the same newly renovated condition in which they got them, and Greenberg said that there is $4 million city reserve maintenance fund that HPD has refused to touch. “The city is just looking to push us off, and have the next administration pay the bill,” he charged.
But it’s “simply not the case” that the repair fund was never used, said management company director Ramon Velez Jr. “When a tenant moves out, the apartment is evaluated and repairs are made.” Velez pledged not to throw Feliciano and son out, but Greenberg, worried about liability, hasn’t agreed to let them stay: “Do I turn off their electric and water and kick them out onto the street, or do I let them live in a dangerous building?”