For the past year, residents of a complex of buildings in the Kingsbridge sections of the Bronx have been living under crumbling roofs, bathing in cold water (or watching it pour down the walls), and suffering the threat that they’ll be kicked out of their rent-controlled apartments. They’re victims of the foreclosure crisis; Wells Fargo loaned their former landlord $35 million on a harebrained scheme to flip the struggling buildings for a profit. The bank foreclosed on the investors, Milbank Real Estate, in 2009, and since 2010 the tenants have been trying to hold Fargo accountable for repairs. Just now, six of the ten buildings were added to a city partnership called the Alternative Enforcement Program, which basically means that they are among the 200 worst-maintained buildings in the city. Six in one ten-building complex! Housing Commissioner Rafael Cestero has said that the complex, with its 548 apartments, is the worst he’s ever seen.
In the fall, analysts estimated that $19 million in repairs were needed. As City Hall joins in their fight to make necessary infrastructure fixes and also to hold landlords (in this case, a special servicer who took over when Milbank defaulted), the buildings have also inspired an entirely new civic program. The Proactive Preservation Initiative will attempt to identify troubled buildings before they fall into such disrepair, instead of waiting until things have gotten so bad that conditions are nearly unlivable. By watching to see who falls behind on taxes or water fees, and monitoring which neighborhoods are hardest hit by foreclosures, the city hopes to use the PPI to swoop in with aid or enforcement much earlier.
According to Crains, Scarsdale investor Steve Finkelstein has emerged with a $28 million bid to buy and repair the buildings, as well as pay off their debt. Finklestein and tenants are currently debating issues like back rent, future rent increases, and how much is needed to fully repair the buildings.
Meanwhile, the other 200 buildings in the Alternative Enforcement Program are scattered across the city, with 99 in Brooklyn, 70 in the Bronx, and 23 in Manhattan. Way to go, Queens and Staten Island.