Recently-elected council member Sandy Nurse rolled up her sleeves with tenants of a Bushwick building Tuesday to clean their basement — flooded after Hurricane Ida — and to send a strong message to their nonprofit management and landlord: "We deserve respect."
Wearing white disposable coveralls and heavy-duty gloves, the council member partnered with about eight residents of 1328 Gates Avenue and representatives of Communities Resist to fill dozens of trash bags with construction debris, trash, decaying wood, old car tires and rubble.
"It was clear no one had serviced the basement in years," Nurse said.
"Even when the basement flooded during Hurricane Ida and saw multiple feet of water, tenants just waited for the water to recede - management, we were told, didn’t come to service the building at all during or after the storm."
The cleanup was a public cry for help from tenants who say they feel "abandoned, neglected, and forgotten" by their nonprofit landlord and management company, Neighborhood Restore and RiseBoro Community Partnership.
The tenants were expecting to see an improvement when the property changed hands in 2018. Instead the service has sometimes felt even worse, Hector Muniz, of Apt 2R, said. Muniz has lived in the building since 1996, more than 25 years.
"Since Neighborhood Restore took over I don’t feel recognized as a tenant," he said.
"I don’t know who the super is, nobody comes to clean up the building. We have to sue to get repairs, nobody gives us clear answers about the scheduled renovation of the building."
For years, the tenants of 1328 Gates Avenue have more-or-less had to take care of themselves. They've trimmed the backyard bushes, mopped the hallway floors, done exterminations and fixed roofing and heating issues on their own. Last year, part of the ceiling fell down, knocking a tenant out.
The residents expected change when Neighborhood Restore and RiseBoro came in, especially as RiseBoro received an $18 million tax credit allocation to fund a full renovation of the building and others, Communities Resist Staff Attorney Kevin Worthington said.
However, RiseBoro has not met with the tenants about its renovation plans in more than two years, the tenants said. They have heard that RiseBoro attorneys said in a 2021 meeting that it was considering plans to convert their two-bedrooms to one-bedrooms, which they fear could mean eviction.
"Neighborhood Restore’s failure to ensure basic maintenance and to collaborate with tenants about renovation plans are prolonging and exacerbating decades-long suffering and exhaustion," Worthington said.
"What we’re asking is that they exercise discretion to accommodate tenant needs, so they don't have to relocate. The building is rent stabilized, but there is uncertainty about what the new rent might be after renovation."
She said RiseBoro later sent a cleaning crew.
RiseBoro "inherited" the building's poor conditions, it told BK Reader in a statement Wednesday.
"All essential in-unit repairs have been completed with basement repairs currently underway," the nonprofit said.
"In addition, RiseBoro has received a tax credit allocation to fund a full renovation of the building. We plan to meet with all tenants of the building within the next two weeks to discuss our roadmap and timeline for a complete renovation."
It said building renovation plans have not been finalized and will not be until it has meet with residents for their input.
"Upon the completion of building renovations, all existing tenants have a right to return to the building. Any changes made to the property must bring it into conformance with current building codes and must comply with the terms of any [Housing Preservation and Development] financing with respect to rents."