The Grinch of the Grand Concourse

Landlord Warms Up to Rudy but Chills Tenants


With ditched Christmas trees piled on the sidewalk atop bags of garbage and the remains of junked bicycles, it was clear that the holidays were over for the tenants of 1326 Grand Concourse. In 30-degree weather with biting winds, they lined up in front of the building carrying posters that decried Zisman as a cold-hearted grinch. "Mr. Zisman: Move your feet! Turn on the heat!" said one. Children carried another: "Please give me heat. I can't sleep at night."

"People use stoves to warm their houses, but they get sick," says tenant Albert Rodriguez, who, with the help of a community organization, ACORN, lead the recent rally. "My wife was throwing up and coughing blood because the stove dries up your membranes." Rodriguez has a computerized thermometer in his window that prints out a tape when the temperature in the room is below 50 degrees. "That's all it does now is print," he says. The day of the press conference, Rodriguez's thermometer registered 64 degrees. He had the stove on full blast, with a pan of water inside to counter the dry air.

Two-year-old Alexa, daughter of Lydia Gonzales, in the bathroom doorway of her apartment at 1326 Grand Concourse: The hole in the floor has been there since Alexa was born, Lydia says.
photo: Keith Bedford
Two-year-old Alexa, daughter of Lydia Gonzales, in the bathroom doorway of her apartment at 1326 Grand Concourse: The hole in the floor has been there since Alexa was born, Lydia says.

The hallways were cold enough to turn breath into vapor, although some apartments were warm. But the heat comes with a price. "Look at this Con Ed bill," said Mario Garcia, producing a $1680.08 bill covering two months; Garcia supplements his stove heat with four electric radiators to warm his family, which includes his wife and four children, ages two, six, nine, and 14. His bathroom's motif is similar to Gonzales's—missing tiles, moldy ceiling, shaky toilet—but perhaps the most disturbing sight was the family cat, a black Siamese called Cojo. A bloody gash cuts into her right ear and down her face; Mario says the cat had tangled with a rat in the apartment a few days earlier. "The rats come out from the hole by where we take a bath," chimed in six-year-old Mario Junior.

In another apartment, Victor Sanandres has tub troubles (it leaks alongside a wall it shares with a hallway, sending water rolling down the floor) and rat problems (a makeshift wooden crate covers a part of the ceiling where rats have gnawed through into the living room). Near the kitchen, a large, L-shaped hole in the ceiling gives him a view of the pipes that sometimes freeze and leak water onto his floor. His mother, who moved into the apartment 13 years ago from a homeless shelter, wears a coat, sweatshirt, and Yankees cap around the house to keep warm.

Upstairs, in a hallway that connects two wings of the building, insulation material peeked out of a hole in the wall five feet high and four feet across. It looked like someone had boxed with the drywall. "People get frustrated with this place," says Rodriguez. "You can't respect it." A moment later, a teenager cruised by jabbing at the air.

"What you got to do," he said, "is destroy this building. Destroy the whole thing, and build a whole new one. One with heat."

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