A sign outside 1849 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx labels the building a shelter in the event of nuclear fallout, but residents in this recently privatized building say that they have received scant protection from more immediate harms: mold, rodents, and New York City winters.
“Over the last six years, this building has totally deteriorated. Rents have increased but services have decreased. The lack of heat and hot water has made this building a disaster” said Eugenie White, the President of the Morris Heights Tenant Association.
“This is the worst it’s ever been” added Rosa Williams, a 26-year resident of the building.
Now, with the help of the Urban Justice Center, 70 of the building’s tenants have called on a judge to transfer control of the building to an independent administrator in order to make long-neglected repairs—a rare action to fix what residents call a rapid deterioration in services since the ownership exited from the Mitchell-Lama program 6 years ago.
“It took me 8 years to move in because there was a long list of tenants trying to get in” when the building was government-owed said Estelle Rollins. Now, as of December 18th, there were 784 code violations in the complex, and some long time residents have started to leave. “It was a family building, now a lot of those old families are starting to move out” she added.
Since leaving the Mitchell-Lama program, the building has changed hands twice, and today’s action was just the latest step in a history of problems for the residents. According to tenant Portia Shaw, residents went on strike against the previous owner to demand a return to cut services. Last August, half of the building’s residents went to court demanding repairs but to little results. “We’ve been unable to get the landlord to live up to stipulations” said lawyer Garrett Wright. “The only alternative left to us was to file this action.”
When under Mitchell-Lama, the building was serviced by unionized janitorial workers. Now White said that cleaning and janitorial services were “at the zero level.”
The building is now owned by Mario and Lucia Milevoi, who bought the property in early 2002. The Milevois also own a building next door, 1871 Sedgwick, where resident Carolyn Bryant said she’d like to undertake a takeover as well.
Residents said they had difficulty organizing the action, owning to changes made to the building over the past few years. The landlords have transformed community meeting areas, laundry rooms and storage areas to apartments, leaving little room for meetings between residents, according to Williams.
Today’s legal action comes as part of an upswing in organizing surrounding current and former Mitchell-Lama buildings, including efforts to keep 1520 Sedgwick under government ownership and a decision by the City Comptroller to prevent investment of pension money in speculative real estate deals involving public housing.
The position of tenants here and elsewhere was laid out in simple terms by Eugenie White: “It isn’t right for him to take all and give nothing.”