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March 1992 New York's Community Affairs News Magazine $2.

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Volume XVII Number 3
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Ambitious and Flawed
he Commission on the Homeless has released a 200-plus pages
report that rehashes the same old problems and provides some
startling but troubling suggestions for change. It's long-winded,
ambitious and flawed_
The commission is in favor of setting up a new public authority to run
the shelter system, making it tougher for families to enter the shelter
system and establishing a rent voucher program to help people pay for
apartments. They're also calling for increased social services in small
shelters that would be run by nonprofit groups.
These ideas send a very mixed message. It's indisputable that the
current system for providing shelter and housing is a terrible mess. But
will a public authority, with bonding power and the freedom to override
zoning and land-use rules, do any better? Or will it simply hide more
mismanagement from the eyes of the people? Rent subsidies can help
people in the short-term-but they don't increase the permanent supply
of affordable housing. And nonprofit groups can only run decent shelters
if they have adequate resources and support.
Underlying the debate are some very old battles about the causes and
cures for poverty and the appropriate role of government. To boil it down,
the questions are about whether responsibility for poverty lies with
individuals or society at large and whether the government is capable of
improving the situation. There's a need for a middle ground in this
dispute, but the commission and its public relations team in the news-
room of The New York Times are trying to shift some of the blame back
to the homeless themselves.
A case in point: the Cuomo report recommends tighter enforcement of
the eligibility standards at family shelters, a sign that they believe people
who aren't truly homeless are using the shelter system to scam a city
apartment. And people who have just lost their home will have to prove
their ability to "live independently" to a social worker before they receive
help finding a new apartment. If they can't prove their independence,
they'll have to join a long-term education program. That's just plain
This direction is not surprising when you consider the composition of
the commission, which is top heavy with real estate titans and financiers.
It's Mayor David Dinkins who needs to prove his independence-by
discarding some of the more onerous proposals of his commission.
* * *
Special thanks must be made this month to Michael Moore, the
filmmaker who directed "Roger and Me." His foundation, the Center for
Alternative Media and Culture, paid for our last printing bill. Take note,
all you other socially-conscious celebrities!
* * *
Corrections: In our "Realty Dollars" newsbrief in the February 1992
issue, we misnamed one of the Del Toro brothers in East Harlem. He is
William Del Toro. And in the "Cure or Curse" article, we misstated the
workload of building managers. They are each responsible for about 300
troubled apartments. 0
Cover photograph by F.M. Kearney.
Shame of the City
While landlords try to walk away from financial
shambles, it's tenants who pay the price in human
misery. 16
Ambitious and Flawed .. ..... .... ..... ...... ............ ....... .. ... ... 2
Hudson Park Incorporated ........ ... .......... .... ......... ... .4
Homeless Loss .... ... ...... ... ..... ...... ...... .... .............. ... ... . 5
HEAT Closes Doors ....... ..... ... ..... ....................... .. .... . 5
AIDS Activists Win Victory ............. ....... ..... ...... .. .... 6
The Rio Grand ....... .... ... ...... ......... .. .............. ... .... ... ... 8
East Harlem Renaissance? ..... ..................... ... ..... ... 10
Open Space, Open Questions .. ..... ... ... ... ........ ........ 13
Remember the Elderly ......... ..... ..... ....... ....... .... ...... 26
Trump: The Last Word? .......... ..... ... ..... ... .... ....... .... 27
Letters ... ........ ... ... ....... ............ ..... ..... ......... ..... ..... ....... 29
East Harlem/Page 10
Open Space/Page 13
Shame/Page 16
Some people just don't trust
the government, especially
when the government steps out
of reach of the people. That's
what many local residents fear
is happening on the Greenwich
Village waterfront, where the
state and city are negotiating
plans to create a government-
chartered Hudson River Park
Corporation for the construction
of a pork along the waterfront
from Battery Park City to West
59th Street.
''The fact of a corporation
will in effect cut communities
out," says John Short, chairper-
son of Community Board Two's
waterfront committee. 'What
will get done will not be in the
communities' best interest." On
January 29, Community Board
Two voted unanimously to
oppose the creation of the park
corporation, and some neigh-
borhood activists are also
vehemently opposed to the plan.
Sleeping GIant Community groups are debating a plan to create a new corporation for park development
along the highways and piers of Manhattan'S lower west side.
A summary of a "memo of
understanding" between the
mayor, the governor, and other
officials, and obtained by City
Limits, says that the Hudson
River Park Corporation (HRPC)
would be governed by a nine-
member bOard appointed by
the state and the city. The
governor would appoint a
majority of the members. The
HRPC would pursue the goals of
the West Side Waterfront Panel,
whose 1 990 report endorses the
use of revenues from limited
commercial and residential
development for construction of
the park. One fear not
addressed in the summary is
that the HRPC could be
chartered as a subsidiary of the
state Urbon Development
Corporation, which can issue
bonds and override zoning
regulations, among other things.
Borough President Ruth
Messinger opposed that idea in
her recent draft of a compre-
hensive waterfront plan.
When officials create
government-chartered corpora-
tions, they create organizations
that can, in theory, pursue goals
for the good of the public
without the contracting and
financing hassles that often
stymie government agencies. But
such corporations don't have
the same rules for public
oversight and disclosure as the
government. As far as the
general public is concerned, a
p u b l i ~ corporation might as well
be privately owned.
But supporters of the pro-
posed park corporation say this
Children in the NYC Family Shelter System
and Where They Stay
6,000 .a
1188 1/89 1190
Source: NYC Human Resources Administration.
1191 1192
Number of children in
each type of shelter, 1192:
Private Rooms 6,585
mer 2's)
(TIer I's)
Total Children: 8,741
government-chartered agency
would be different from its
predecessors. The so-called
memo of understanding says the
HRPC's charter would prohibit
the corporation from issuing
bonds to raise money, and
would also subject its land-use
decisions to public review.
The argument over the HRPC
is just the latest turn in a debate
over the West Side waterfront
that has raged for 20 years. In
the late 1980s, community
groups defeated the
government's plan to build a
super highway along the
riverfront, but consensus among
those very same grours has
been a vaporous goa ever
since. Now, people that worked
together to defeat the highway
are at odds over the corpora-
"I think [the HRPC) is a great
idea," sa)' Tom Fox, executive
director of the Neighborhood
Open Space Coalition and a
member of the West Side
Waterfront Panel. ''This is a
once in a lifetime opportunity to
open up the river and give New
York something it can sing
about for a change," he says,
adding that ''The alternative is
having a gaggle of city agen-
cies pick apart the waterfront."
But opponents of the corpo-
ration and the waterfront
panel's grand plan question the
scale ana timeliness of the
project. Several groups,
including The Clean Air Cam-
paign and the Federation to
Preserve the Greenwich Village
Waterfront & Great Port, wrote
to officials asking that the
government develop a simple
park without any buildings, and
without a new corparation. They
say a simple park could be
developed quickly and cheaply,
with no new rood construction.
" It' s not that different from a
parkway upstate," says George
Haikalis of the Auto-Free New
York Committee of T ransporta-
tion Alternatives. "plant the
trees, plant the grass. The cost
of landscaping a Rat area is not
much. At some future time you
could come back and put in the
most magnificent park in the
world. But you have to create
the space for people now. "
And Marcy Benstock of the
Clean Air Campaign says the
proposed park corporation
wouldn't be able to begin
construction until the next
century, because revenue from
private commercial and residen-
tial development along the
river-needed to fund park
construction under the propased
plan-won't be forthcoming
until there's a major upturn in
the city's real estate industry.
Fox doesn't dispute that
assessment. "It took 25 years to
build Central Park," he says. But
he argues that even the most
simple green space would cost
many times more than advo-
cates claim because of the
deterioration of the bulkhead
that supp<?rts the roodway, and
the cost of restoring the remain-
ing piers. The corporation plan
is a practical, acceptable
compromise if any park is ever
to be built, he says. "The thing
is, you gotta play with the cards
you're dealt." 0 Andrew
New York's homeless
community recenrly lost one of
its most impassioned activists.
Keith Thompson, a leader at
Tompkins Square Park and a
vice-president of the Homeless
Clients Advisory Council-one
of the first homeless-led groups
to organize inside the shelters-
died on January 2 of tubercu-
HomeIea HellraIaer: Kei th Thompson i n 1989.
losis at Harlem Hospital. He
was 27.
A Queens native, Thompson
was raised in New Jersey in a
middle-class family and became
homeless in the early 1980s. As
an organizer, he aimed to give
homeless people the simple
dignities enjoyed by the
housed-the right to privacy
and the right to have a say in
determining the conditions of
their lives.
"Keith was deeply concerned
with the whole issue of empow-
erment," says Chris Owens, son
of Congressman Major Owens
and an aide to City Council
President Andrew Stein. Owens
first met Thompson at a
homeless rally in 1989. "He
believed very strongly that
homeless people should have a
say abaut whaY s happening in
the shelters and be involved in
setting rules for the shelters."
Thompson reveled in
uncovering abuses in the shelter
system, carrying a copy of the
city regulations to shove in the
face of every obstinate shelter
staffer he met-often at his own
risk. "He was probably kicked
out of every shelter in the city,"
says John Penley, a fellow
activist and friend, recalling
Thompson's contentious ano
RambOyant style of protest. In
1989, Thompson tipped off
to large scale food
theft by staff workers at the
Third Street Men's Shelter,
resulting in a front page expose
in the New York Post.
But Thompson also orga-
nized on the street. He was
involved with a group of
homeless activists known as
Homeward Bound who camped
out for 200 days in City Hall
park to demand housing from
the Koch administration; he was
a leader among the activists
who fought the citY. s attempts to
clear the homeless from
Tompkins Square Park; and he
was one of the 400 homeless
people who trudged from Staten
Island to Washington D.C. as
part of the Housing Now!
protest in 1989.
The trek to Washington was
grueling. Participants didn't
have enough food, clothing or
medical care. Many of the
marchers collapsed en route,
includins. Thompson, who
suffered from epilepsy. But he
managed to turn his own needs
into an organizing tool. "He
had an epileptic seizure the first
night out, and that really forced
us to realize what a precarious
position we were in," recalls
Connie Lesold, a close friend.
"Keith and [some other
marchers] set up a medical
station and we got on WBAI
radio to appeal to people to
send money for prescriptions."
Thompson lived in Tompkins
Square on and off until
December 1990, when his
health worsened. He had been
diagnosed with the AIDS virus
the year before and he knew he
couldn't weather another winter
outside. Hoping to safeguard
his health, he went to the
Greenpoint shelter in Brooklyn,
where friends believe he con-
tracted tuberculosis. Although
he was hospitalized a few times,
he continued to organize, trying
to start a shelter newsletter and
residents council.
Yet on April 12, Thompson
was evicted from the Greenpoint
shelter for refusing to take down
the sheet he had hung around
his bed for privacy and to shield
his fellow residents from the
infection he carried. ''The sheet
was in violation of the city' s fire
code regulations," says Earl
Weber, a spokesperson for the
city' s Human Resources
After he was kicked out of
Greenpoint, Thompson had
trouble obtaining medical
treatment-trOUbles his friends
blame for the rapid decline of
his health. Still, despite his
illness, his own concerns and his
need for housing remained
secondary to his fight for the
rights of homeless people.
"Keith suffered a lot of personal
discomforts because of his
activism," says Penley. "He felt
that in order to be a real
homeless organizer, you had to
be homeless yourself." 0
Sarah Ferguson
After 12 years of supplying
oil to hundreds of low income
buildings, what remains of the
Housing Energy Alliance for
Tenants Cooperative Corpora-
tion (HEAT) is a padlocked
office and a long line of
And one of HEAT's biggest
creditors is its own members-
the residents of some 250
buildings that joined the fuel
and paid thousands
of dollars in advance to get oil
in time for winter. This winter,
the oil was never delivered.
HEAT abruprly closed its
offices in November and the
cooperative' s members are
trying to piece together how
and Why HEAT went broke.
They're questioning the
organization' s spending
practices, which include budget
items like consulting
fees in excess of $20,000, auto
expenses of $10,000 and
computer supplies costing more
than $10,000.
Though it may be some time
before HEAT's demise is
explained, those involved are
pointing fingers in many
directions. Some blame a
decline in the demand for oil
due to warmer winters, while
others critize poor membership
participation, mismanagement
and alleged fraud.
What is clear is that the
residents of many buildings, like
320-22 West 17th Street, which
paid HEAT $21 ,000 for oil this
year, may never recoup their
money from the broke coopera-
tive. Other buildings may lose
anywhere from $200 to
Created in reaction to rising
oil prices during the 1970s,
HEAT supplied oil to city-owned
buildings run by their tenants
associations. Established as a
cooperative, HEAT bought oil
in bulk to get cheaper prices
for its members. The nonprofit
organization charged a per-
gallon processing tee, which
was supposed to cover the
administrative costs of the
But according to a 1991
audit, HEAT showed a deficit of
$150,000, with debts owed to
seven different fuel companies
and tax authorities, among
others. Charles Abney, the
former secretary of HEAT's
board, says the group was
never self-supporting. With a
decline in grants, and warmer
winters creating stiffer competi-
tion, Abney says HEAT "fell into
a pattern" of carrying over debt
from one year to the next.
"If this was the case, then the
board should have informed the
members five to six years ago,"
says Ann Henderson, a statt
member at the Urban Home-
steading Assistance Board, a
group that provides technical
assistance to tenant-run city
buildings and is helping out the
HEAT members.
But members of the HEAT
board baunced the blame to the
fuel cooperative' s staff mem-
bers, explaining that they never
knew the full extent of the
financial problems. Israel
Valesquez was the treasurer for
HEAT. James St. Furcy, the
organization's president, says,
"Valesquez always kept us
Valesguez could not be
reached for comment. And
Counterpoint: Speaking out against the Cuomo commission's new shelter plan, Sherletta McCaskill
announces the formation of a Homeless People's Commission on Homelessness. The new commission is
backed by the Homeless Clients Advisory Council.
HEAT's executive director, Roy
Batiste, who resigned last
September, did not return
numerous phone calls.
Some board members also
place part of the blame on the
members of the fuel coopera-
tive, who they say failed to
provide the necessary checks
and balances for the organiza-
tion. The general membership is
required by law to vote on
financial and policy issues. But
Abney, the secretary of the
board, says only three or four
people showed up at those
important meetings. 0 Erika
Twenty-five percent of the
seats on New York City's HIV
Planning Council are to be filled
by people with AIDS or HIV,
according to a recent resolution
passed unanimously by the
The federally-mandated
council, appointed by the
mayor, oversees the spending of
emergency relief funds granted
to the city under the Ryan White
Comprehensive AIDS Resource
Emergency (CARE) Act of 1990,
which in the current fiscal year
total some $33 million. The
funds are intended for social
services and health care.
The resolution will increase
the number of HIV-positive New
Yorkers on the 45-member
council from two to 12. It marks
a victory for local AIDS activists,
who organized in opposition to
what they perceived as an
egregious exclusion of people
with AIDS and HIV from a
planning process meant to
address their needs.
"The council will become
more responsive to the needs of
PWAs and HIV-positive
~ p l e , " says Keith Cylar, one
of the newly-appointed HIV-
positive council members.
"Hopefully, it will open up the
process somewhat." He and
other activists argue that the so-
called "emergency" money
would have been distributed to
service organizations sooner if
there had been more people
with AIDS (PW As) on the
Michael Slocum, an AIDS
activist with the organization
Body Positive, was one of two
people with HIV whom the
mayor appointed to the council
last year. Black and gay as well
as HIV-positive, Slocum consid-
ered himself a token appointee
and was determined to expand
PW A representation on the
last fall, Slocum and other
activists organized an advisory
group which drafted the
resolution and presented it to
the council. After the council
adopted the resolution, it
developed a list of HIV-positive
candidates for seven vacant
seats and forwarded it to the
mayor for his approval last
Despite AIDS activists'
frustration with Mayor Dinkins,
they" may have his health policy
statt to thank for the fact that the
Ryan White legislation ensures
any PWA representation on the
mandated planning councils at
all. The bill, introduced by Sen.
Edward M. Kennedy, did not
initially specify such representa-
tion. After a call from Dinkins'
Office on Health Policy to a
Kennedy staffer, "affeCted
communities" joined the list of
groups to be represented,
alongside health and human
service providers, community-
based organizations and state
and local officials. 0 Michael

Decent housing. Small business development. Worth
nghting for. That's why Brooklyn Union Gas started the Area
Development Fund three years ago. We committed $5 million to
create a revolving fund and to attract others to the cause.
In this good nght, we use equity investments; below-market
loans for site acquisition, pre-development costs, construction
and business expansion; bridge nnancing; letters of credit and
venture capital.
1b date the Fund has contributed $8 million for housing,
small business development, and capital projects for cultural
institutions. We've gained dedicated allies among several
private and public organizations. Their help has enabled the
Fund to leverage $8 million to $267 million.
Come, join us in nghting the good nght.. . shining armor
supplied. Thlk to Jan Childress at (718) 403-2583. You'll nnd him
working for you at Brooklyn Union Gas, naturally.
~ Brooklyn Union Gas
By Michele Herman
The Rio Grand
Ellen Baxter is working with tenants to create
model housing for the homeless.
hen you walk into the Rio, a
new permanent residence for
formerly homeless people in
Upper Manhattan, one of the
first details that strikes the eye is the
lighting. There are no humming
fluorescents or dim, standard-issue
ceiling fixtures or those universal sym-
boIs of squalor-naked lightbulbs dan-
gling from a cord. Instead, the Rio's
hallways are lined with
sconces of a soft,
marbleized glass, each
one casting a slightly
different incandescent
hue on the clean white
From the sconces on
down to the real hard-
wood floors, the solid
oak furniture in the
apartments and the
sunny roof deck oppo-
site the staff offices , it's
clear that the Rio dif-
fers significantly from
most housing for the
homeless: it was de-
signed not by a face-
less bureaucracy for a
"population," but by
thoughtful people for
Effective Advocacy
"Social services are a growing in-
dustry these days, and you have to
look at people's motivations," says
Harriet Cohen, a senor policy analyst
for Manhattan Borough President Ruth
Messinger. "Hers comes from the best
place. She's extremely dedicated and
has a real connection to these folks. "
Baxter's success at creating per-
manent housing stems from what is,
nonprofit people don't have." says
one-time colleague Kim Hopper, now
a research scientist at the Nathan Klein
Research Center in Westchester.
"She's actually doing what we arm-
chair academics are writing and shout-
ing about."
Run Partly By Tenants
Each of Baxter's buildings is a minor
miracle of humaneness. The Rio, a
renovated Art Deco building with 75
studios and seven two-bedroom units,
is by far the most luxurious of the
buildings, which also include the
Heights, the Stella, the Abraham and
the Bliebtreu. But all of them are
cheerful, clean, self-contained com-
munities. What's more,
they are smoothly run
in large part by the
tenants themselves.
Many of them are
elderly, mentally ill or
recovering addicts and
haven't been in a posi-
tion of responsibility
for years, or ever.
"Everybody has
their own style," says
Ann Teicher, deputy
director of the Mayor's
Office on Homeless-
ness and SRO Housing.
She says Baxter "trusts
the people and lets
them know she trusts
Baxter was able to
create these five mini-
>- communities without
~ spending much
LiS money. The Rio was
~ gut-renovated at a cost
u: of about $38,000 per
But the success of
the Rio involves much
more than a caring ap-
proach to the physical
details of the buildings.
AttentIon to Detail: Franklin Rice. Moises Castillo and Michael Velazquez in the
hallway of the Rio.
unit (as opposed to the
annual cost of $85,000
It's the result of the unique coopera-
tion between the tenants themselves
and one particular person named Ellen
Baxter. A small, self-effacing woman
with a long blonde braid and the de-
meanor of a reserved college student,
Baxter is actually one of the city's
most dogged and effective advocates
for homeless people. Under the aegis
of the Committee for the Heights/
Inwood Homeless and the Broadway
Housing Development Fund, she has
put together a total of five supported
residences in Washington Heights in
less than a decade. Housing experts
unfailingly point to Baxter's build-
ings as some of the best models around.
a/MARCH 1992/CnY UMIT.
in essence, a set of very simple
unspoken tenets: all people deserve
to be treated with respect; adults
should not be patronized; people are
far more likely to thrive in pleasant,
supportive surroundings; people need
community but they need to be able to
create it for themselves.
These ideas are hardly revolution-
ary-they sound more like a combi-
nation of common sense and basic
decency. What sets Baxter apart is her
ability to put these ideas into practice,
to fight the dragons of bureaucratic
insensitivity and inanity without
burning out or turning cynical. "It
takes a kind of drive and tenacity most
per bed in a shelter).
The renovation was completed in nine
months, two months ahead of sched-
ule, with no contractor overruns.
"To me it's just great," says Rio
tenant Phyllis DeLorenzo, who is
beginning nursing school and in the
latter stages of an alcohol treatment
program. She also volunteers for the
midnight security shift in the building
on Friday nights. "It's very clean,
everything is brand new, there's a lot
of security and a lot of support from
the staff, and the tenants get along
very well."
To make the buildings viable,
Baxter had to create complex and
ingenious coalitions of funders and
social service providers-as many as
30 nonprofit groups per building. For
the Rio, Baxter put together the most
sophisticated funding yet, primarily
through the Single Room Occupancy
(SRO) loan program at the city's
Department of Housing Preservation
and Development (HPD).
As a result, Baxter was able to
correct the one nagging flaw of her
previous buildings: shared baths and
kitchens. The Rio's apartments all
have private baths and efficiency
kitchens, features generally-and
wrongly-considered a luxury in such
housing. "It's wiser for the city to
promote studio apartments rather than
the SRO model," says Baxter. "In the
other building, the tolerance level
needed [for sharing facilities] is rough
on anybody. It's hard to live with for
a short time, let alone year after year. "
She also insisted on outdoor roof space
and the seven two-bedroom units, so
that families and singles can live
together, as they would anywhere else.
Baxter's success has much to do
with her insistence on these basic
amenities. But it also has something
to do with her eye for smaller details,
or at least the attitude that underlies
it. The sconces were important to her
for the message they sent to the tenants:
you deserve to live in a clean, well-
lighted place. Before she could get
them, she had to win over the housing
department, which initially wanted
to see standard fixtures, the cheapest
possible. "They said, 'People will
remove them, they'll steal them.' They
said, 'Paint the walls brown, '" she
recalls. But Baxter stood her ground
until the housing department agreed.
As Rio tenant Philip Gray puts it,
"Just because you're homeless doesn't
mean you don't have values. Once
you become homeless it's very hard to
become un-homeless." When you're
finally given the chance for a place to
live, he says, "you're very apprecia-
tive. You're grateful." Vandalism has
never been an issue at any of the
At the five buildings, prospective
tenants do undergo a rigorous screen-
ing process before they move in, but
its aim is somewhat unusual. Baxter
and the tenants in the buildings
willingly accept people with serious
mental and emotional problems and
elderly people with health problems-
as long as they can assume the respon-
sibility of a lease. This sets them apart
from many other groups that look for
only the most desirable, trouble-free
tenants. But not everyone can move
in. "We're looking to screen out people
with active substance abuse prob-
lems," says Baxter. "They make lousy
tenants and lousy neighbors."
Baxter expects both more and less
of the tenants than many other people
who manage buildings. On the one
"Ellen really
believes in
people's ability to
take control of
their lives."
hand, she is laissez-faire; she expects
tenants to be considerate neighbors
and pay the rent, and as long as they
fulfill these basic requirements she
leaves them alone.
But at the same time, the buildings
are set up with the expectation that
the tenants will play an extremely
active role in running them. This
expectation, more than any of the other
features, is what makes Baxter's
buildings stand out. "Ellen really
believes in people's ability to take
control of their own lives," says
For instance, residents screen
prospective tenants before the staff
does and are given veto power. As
with most policies at the buildings,
this is done not only as a way to
involve tenants in their surroundings,
but because they tend to be good at it.
Determining Honesty
"They're wiser than we are in
determining honesty," says Baxter.
Adds Michael Velazquez, an admin-
istrative assistant at the Rio who was
homeless and then lived at the Heights,
"If they tell me I'm scared but I'm
gonna do it, that's all I want to hear.
When they reveal their drug history I
believe them more than ones who
know too much."
Each of the buildings offer on-
premises social services provided by
Columbia University Community
Services. And there is also a variety of
discussion groups, AA meetings,
vocational seminars, movie nights,
bingo and cook-outs-many spon-
sored and led by tenants.
The Committee for Heights/Inwood
Homeless and Columbia University
both have staff, including superin-
tendents, on hand during business
hours. But on weekends and
evenings-the toughest times to run a
building-the properties are staffed
entirely by tenants, who run the
security desk, dealing with all issues
and emergencies that arise.
"We have a lot of tenants who know
what to do about a toilet overflowing,
know how to resolve disputes, deal
with emergencies," says Baxter with
characteristic nonchalance-as if
every apartment building in New York
functioned so smoothly. 0
Michele Herman is a freelance writer
based in Manhattan.
New York Law School Nonprofit Organization Employee
Scholarship Program. Employees of nonprofit organiza-
tions in areas such as social services, arts, education, health
care, public advocacy, religion or philanthropy are eligible to
apply. As with all candidates for admission to the Law
School, those who wish to be considered for the Nonprofit
Organization Scholarship Program must have a bachelor's
degree and take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). For
additional information and to obtain application materials,
please contact New York Law School's Admissions Office at
(212) 431-2888.
By Andrew White
East Harlem Renaissance?
A turf war challenges the power brokers of El Barrio.
ike wrestlers engaged in a furi-
0us match, East Harlem commu-
nity groups are grappling for
control of a new $475,000 state
social services contract. The fight is a
sign that the influence of the once-
indomitable Del Toro family is fading
The Del Toro brothers, Angelo and
William, have dominated politics and
government funding in the neighbor-
hood for more than a decade. Angelo
has been El Barrio's state
assemblyman for 17 years,
and William has headed a
series of government-
funded anti-poverty agen-
cies in the district since the
1970s. William went to
prison for bribery in the
mid-1970s, although the
conviction was later over-
turned. Last fall, he won
the Democratic primary for
a new City Council seat by
34 votes, but state authori-
ties counted more than 740
voting irregularities and
called for a new election.
The second time around,
the electorate turned out
en masse to reject Del Toro
in favor of Adam Clayton
Powell IV.
Two months before the
opment and Planning Coalition.
"People were afraid to try anything
before, but now they see that this
machine is not unshakable."
The state's Department of Social
Services (DSS) chose a little-known
organization that runs job training and
youth programs, Just Us Inc., to be the
developer and lead contractor on the
crisis intervention center project.
William Del Toro used to be the ex-
ecutive director of Just Us. The orga-
tives without the agency's approval.
While a state investigation continues,
the Del Toros now deny they have any
financial ties to the building's owner-
But MDC I Corporation still owns
the building. And its current presi-
dent, Vivian Reveron, is also the presi-
dent of Just Us. Just Us pays about
$40,000 in rent each year and, by its
own accounting, holds hundreds of
thousands of dollars in government
contracts. State officials say state
audits have found no conflicts of
interest, though they are looking into
the matter.
In recent months, Just Us has stirred
distrust within the neighborhood by
refusing to release a listing of its board
of directors to local com-
munity groups who re-
quested it. When City
Limits asked Edward
Auerbach, executive direc-
tor of Just Us, for the list, he
said he would ask the di-
rectors to approve its re-
lease. The list was never
William Del Toro's cur-
rent connections to Just Us
are not entirely hidden.
~ Anibal Solivan, who was
? William Del Toro's cam-
~ paign manager and an em-
== ployee of HHEDTF, has
~ been the spokesman for Just
~ Us at several community
C meetings where the crisis
g intervention center was
s: discussed, according to
8 those who attended.
If Solivan also has an unsa- election, the state chose an
organization closely affili-
ated with the Del Toro fam-
In His Face: East Harlem groups are rallying to seize control of a new
social services contract from a group with links to William Del Taro.
vory past-he was once
vice president of Arawak
Consulting, a firm that won ily to oversee the
development of a massive new 24-
hour crisis intervention center and
homelessness prevention program.
But the ground rules of East Harlem
politics have changed since then, and
several community leaders are now
standing up in defiance of the long-
time power brokers. They are demand-
ing that the state give the contract to
an organization outside the Del Toro
camp. Even some of the poverty
dynasty's former allies have joined
the opposition.
"The defeat of Del Toro has re-
leased a lot of hope and energy for
reform in East Harlem," says Gloria
Quinones, an attorney at the Commu-
nity Law Office and co-chairperson of
the East Harlem Community Devel-
nization is housed in the same build-
ing as Del Toro's Hispanic Housing
and Economic Development Task
Force (HHEDTF) and Angelo Del
Toro's legislative offices.
Conflicts of Interest
The building, 87 East 116th Street,
is at the center of a conflict-of-interest
scandal uncovered by the Daily News
last October. William Del Toroheaded
a corporation, MDC I, that bought the
property three years ago. State rules
forbid legislators from leasing space
from their relatives, but Angelo moved
his offices into the building soon after
MDC I bought it. In addition, HHEDTF
had a state contract that prohibited
them from renting space from reI a-
tens of millions in government con-
tracts before it went broke four years
ago. After two years in bankruptcy, a
federal judge liquidated the consult-
ing firm after she learned Arawak ex-
ecutives had submitted falsified
documents to the court and covered
up its extensive lobbying efforts.
The Del Toro machine began to
crumble last fall, following revela-
tions in the Daily News and Newsday
about the real estate dealings of the
two brothers, the failure of William
Del Toro's nonprofit HHEDTF to de-
velop any housing despite more than
$765,000 in state funding since 1989,
and the organization's inadequate
filings with state regulators. The
charges contributed to Del Toro's
, I
defeat in the run-off City Council
Reform Politics
The new flurry of reform politick-
ing in the district has resulted in some
odd alliances. State Senator Olga
Mendez is now working with Powell
to orchestrate the removal of Just Us
as the group in charge of developing
the crisis intervention center. As re-
cently as last fall she was a Del Toro
ally, "very reluctantl y," she now says.
And she is now willing to affirm what
once would have been a taboo topic:
"Angelo has helped [DSSDeputyCom-
missioner Joseph] Samedei tremen-
dously," she says, when asked how
Angelo Del Toro's political connec-
tions have influenced state funding in
the district.
The assortment of groups opposing
Just Us say they are eager to end what
they call a long history of influence
peddling and corruption. Their aim is
to replace the Del Toro-backed agency
with Boriken Health Center, whose
clinics and other programs serve about
24,000 neighborhood residents a year.
Boriken was at the center of scandal
and near bankruptcy in the late 1980s,
but is now under new management
and is on much firmer fiscal ground.
Participants in the movement to
oust Just Us include Powell , Mendez,
Elizabeth Sanchez of Boriken, Jim
Soler of LaGuardia Memorial House,
Rev. Norman Eddy of East Harlem
of Sinergia, and several others. "The
lead agency has to be someone with
whom the community can invest its
trust," says Lash.
The $475,000 in state money is
meant to establish a 24-hour crisis
intervention center with computer
links to other social service agencies
in the district. Participants are to pro-
vide programs for homelessness pre-
vention, intensive welfare case
management and job training, among
other things.
The funding comes from a state
program created by the legislature two
years ago called Neighborhood Based
Initiatives (NBI). Champions of NBI
say it will help reverse the cycle of
decline in poor communities plagued
by violence, homelessness and decay.
The half-million dollar contract is only
the first year's worth of NBI grants for
East Harlem; local officials say the
program could bring several million
dollars into the neighborhood during
the next five years.
Last year, the state chose six dis-
tricts across the state to participate in
NBI. Only two-East Harlem and
Bedford-Stuyvesant-were in New
York City. In a letter sentto Just Us last
summer from the office of former DSS
Commissioner Cesar Perales, contract
January. But East Harlem is still
"We definitely didn't feel it was an
appropriate time to work on the
contract with that kind of dissent" in
the neighborhood, says Alexandria
Douglas, an assistant commissioner
overseeing the program at DSS. "The
various factions need to identify for
themselves how they want to resolve
the issue. Under the law, the
community selects their lead agency. "
"The defeat of
Del Taro has
released a lot
of hope and
Auerbach of Just Us says he has no
doubts that his group will sign the
NBI contract. He says the organiza-
tion has promised to "move toward a
wider involvement of the community"
in the project. "This bickering and
posturing is wasting time, " he says.
But others see the current events in
a different light. "People are beginning
to see what ' s going on" in the
community, says Nelson Denis,
counsel to Councilman Powell and a
probable candidate for Angelo Del
Toro' s assembly seat this fall. "Angelo
has turned East Harlem into his own
Banana Republic. He says if we do
this we risk losing the money. But
we've called their bluff. " 0
negotiations for the project were to be
completed by November 1991 and
funds released by December 9. The
other five districts signed contracts in
December and received funding in
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123 William Street, New York, NY 10038-3804
Your community housing insurance professionals
for the NINETIES
FRIDAY, APRIL 3, 1992, 8:30 am-6:00 pm
A Conference Sponsored by the Association for Neighborhood
and Housing Development, Inc.
Pablo Eisenberg, President
Center for Community Change
" Institutional Survival and
Local Empowerment: Are These
Mutually Exclusive?"
Felice Michetti, NYC Dept.
of HOWling Preservation and
Exploring the Tensions between
Organizing & Development
Campaigns to Build Community
Neighborhood Based Planning
This Conference is underwritten by Bankers Trust Company
with fund'mg assistance from The Fund for the aty of New York aM The New York COIMIunily Trust
YES, I am interested in attending the ANHD Conference on
Name _________________ _
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Registration Fee SI 0 x_ Registrants (Fee includes Lunch and Reception.)
Enclosed is a check in the amount of S __ For more information call (212) 463-9600
L ______________________________________ ~
By Michael O'D. Moore
Open Questions,
Open Space
Debating the future of Floyd Bennett Airfield.
ing in January, with a strong
wind pushing the wind chill
factor below zero, Steven Marx
and John Britos rolled sleeping bags
and packed gear after a night camping
in Gateway National Recreation Area
in Brooklyn. Sporting red faces and
runny noses, they had spent the pre-
vious night eating hot dogs and
chicken-noodle soup next to an open
fire, before curling up in an open lean-
to in the ecology park at the Floyd
Bennett Airfield section of Gateway.
For four years the two Edward R.
Murrow High School seniors have
been camping regularly at the 1,450
acre park. "Every time we come out
we find something new," says Marx,
17. This trip the discovery was a trail
they'd never seen before.
Gateway National Recreation Area has
been the topic of heated discussion
recently as the National Park Service
considers proposals that would use
private developers to renovate der-
elict old hangars in the park. "The
issue with Gateway-as with any na-
ensure old airplane hangars could be
renovated. Suggestions included
shopping malls, a storage place for
derelict cars, and an air and space
museum. The park service sorted
through the suggestions and chose
four top proposals, including the shop-
ping mall concept. They then sorted
further and come up with a top choice:
the air and space museum, which
would be developed by Robert Meyer
of Muttontown, Long Island. How-
ever, a spokesperson for the National
Park Service, Manny Strumpf, says
that progress has been stalled because
one of the other developers protested
the selection to the Department of the
Camping is just one of the many
uses of the airfield that served as New
York City's first municipal airport,
then a Naval Air Station, before join-
ing the National Park System in 1972.
On the Saturday an ambulance driv-
ing course was set up on a blocked-off
runway, bird watchers were scanning
the horizon with binoculars and the
Boy Scouts were vising the New York
Police Department's Aviation Unit,
located in one of the old hangars.
There is also a model airplane flying
area on one airstrip, fishing along the
Jamaica shore, an archery range and
ball fields.
Keeping WIIIdI: Some environmentalists are wruy of plans to bring development to Floyd
Bennett Airfield.
People Versus Nature
While sections of the old airfield
are pleasant and natural, the park
seems uninviting at first glance and is
not widely known by the New York
populace. Old hangars and the con-
trol tower look forlornly over grass-
infested tarmac. Driving down the old
runways and access roads, visitors
pass dilapidated air support build-
ings, a Coast Guard station, and an
Armed Forces Reserve Center. To the
east, planes rise and descend at
Kennedy Airport, while to the north
rises the Manhattan skyline. This is
not the average park site.
The future of this section of the
tional park-is the dilemma between
people and natural uses," explains
Tom Fox, the director of the Neigh-
borhood Open Space Coalition. "It's
the same dilemma at Golden Gate
Park, Yosemite and Acadia."
Across the country, many parks are
juggling a variety of competing inter-
ests. They say they need extra rev-
enue to run the parks, and bringing in
new development is an easy source of
extra cash-and a way to bring greater
numbers of Americans into the natu-
ral environment. But new develop-
ment can destroy the natural areas
that are the very reasons for the park's
In 1990, the National Park Service
asked private developers for propos-
als that would help the Floyd Bennett
Airfield bring in enough money to
Interior, which oversees the park ser-
vice. Asked if the developer in ques-
tion put forward the shopping mall
proposal, Strumpf says, "I believe so
but can't say 100 percent." He adds
that once the protest issue is resolved,
the National Park Service will hold
public hearings on their top proposal.
Lack of Information
Meanwhile, none of the proposals
have been made public. Everyone--
even park service officials-says
they're opposed to the shopping mall
idea. But the lack of information about
the air and space museum concept is
also creating fears. "What we're con-
cerned about is the scale," says Ron
Bourque, a New York Audubon Soci-
ety member who's served as president
of the New York City Grassland Man-
agement Committee. "If
the concern is large
enough to make a profit
it will change the whole
nature of this area."
says, "A shopping mall
is definitely what this
area does not need. And
the museum idea doesn't
mean anything until we
know the scope of it."
He's afraid that the air
and space museum
could be more of an en-
tertainment theme park
than a quiet educational
Many people say that
if an air and space mu-
seum is thoughtfully de-
signed, it could draw
new people to the park
without destroying the
~ environment. "How will
~ people who live in ur-
~ ban areas ever under-
Bourque and other
Audubon members
come to Floyd Bennett
Field because of its
unique qualities. While
there are many wood-
land parks in the city,
this park is the only one
preserving grassland
habitat that attracts birds
like the Northern Har-
rier, listed on the New
York State Audubon list
as a threatened species.
"It's an amazing list of
rare species here," notes
David Burg, another
New York City Audubon
Happy Campers: The airfield includes sleepover spots and numerous trails.
stand the importance of
nature if they don't have
Ecology Park is a section of the
field used by city teachers to take their
students camping. Educators for Gate-
way, anon-profit organization of more
than 200 teachers and others, runs
year-round training programs for
teachers ataBoard of Education build-
ing at the park. Operating on a shoe-
string budget, the program brings
about 12,000 students to the park in
the fall and spring. Arthur Kupferburg,
the director ofEducators for Gateway,
The Urban Homesteading
Assistance Board
Self Help Works Consumer Cooperative
and Pace University
Invite You to Attend the
Third Annual
Managing Your Cooperative Conference
II Neighborhoods at Work"
April 11, 1992
Pace University
1 Pace Plaza, Manhattan
An opportunity for residents and tenant organizers of low income coop-
eratives and housing advocates to participate in informational, skill
building and networking sessions. Workshops are offered in three tracks:
Building Management. Neighborhoods At Work
Issues and Advocacy: Impacting City-Wide Policies.
For registration and further infornmtlon contact Ellen Goolsby at UHAB, (212) 226-4119
access to it?" asks Fox.
"That's why parks are so important."
He notes that the airfield is not exactly
an historic natural treasure-it was
built on man-made landfill during the
Robert Moses era.
Parks for People
"Gateway has been underutilized
for years," he adds. "Some people like
it that way. But this is a park for all
people-not just some people."
What do Marx and Britos think of
development plans like an air and
space museum? "I don't want one. I
like this place for us campers," says
Britos. "But, if they have to open a
museum to keep the place open, I
could deal with that." 0
Michael O'D. Moore is a freelance
writer based in Manhattan.
in City Limits!
Call Jane Latour
(212) 304-8324
IICompeting Visions of New York City's
Government and its Reform:
The Third Annual Progressive Policy Conference"
Saturday, March 28, 1992
9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
District Council 37
125 Barclay Street
Can progressives in New York City "just say no" to city government restructuring? How do we relate to
the agenda of privatizing city services? What is our vision of the way city government should work? What
is our agenda for government reform? Is there a formula for reform that addresses both the concerns of city
workers about privatization and the needs of existing not-for-profit social service providers?
Federal Reinvestment and the May 16th "Save Our Cities" March on Washington.
Revenue Restructuring with tax freezes and local, state and federal tax reform.
Authorities: Privatization and Accountability
Health Care: The proposed State takeover of Medicaid, HHC and Universal health care.
Which Way Economic Development?: Manufacturing vs. NYC as a World City.
Housing, the Homeless and the Cuomo Commission Report
Employment Security and the Incredible Shrinking Government
Reforming Education and the Marchi Commission Board
Carol O'(leireacain, City Commissioner of Finance
Gale Brewer, City Intergovernmental Affairs
Penelope Pi-Sunyer, The City Project
Martha Stark, Department of Finance
Glenn Pasanen, New York Urban Coalition
Noreen Connell, Educational Priorities Panel
Sponsored by New York Democratk Socialists of America
D YES, I'm coming! Enclosed is my registration fee of$15
D Sorry, I can't come but please keep me informed.
Name __________________________________ ___
Address _____________________________________________________ _
Phone ______________________________________________________ ___
Please return to New York DSA, 15 Dutch Street, New York, NY 10038 (212) 962-1079.
The excesses of the 1980s are catching up with landlords-
and tenants are suffering amid the shambles.
t doesn't take an economist to know we're in tough
times. All you have to do is look and listen to the
bleak stares and strained voices that follow. Old
people using gas elements on their ovens for warmth.
New immigrants crammed into filthy basement
cubicles. Apartments where the ceiling is little more than a
frail latticework of rotting wood.
Behind much of this misery is shaky financing from the
bountiful years of the 1980s. Many ofthe landlords we target
this year are losing buildings because they can't keep up with
their inflated and self-imposed debts. After months or even
years of decline, buildings end up bein,g run by caretakers
appointed by the court system or banks, or taken over by the
city. Sometimes the situation improves-but often it doesn't.
Not all of the landlords we chronicle here are in financial
shambles-some are still solvent, but that doesn't mean
they're not scrimping on basic amenities like locks on the
front door and heat and hot water inside. Tenants who live
in these buildings usually need help navigating their way
through housing court, not to mention battling especially
nasty maneuvers like libel suits against tenant activists. But
legal aid attorneys are swamped and neighborhood groups
have lost funds to hire housing organizers. And government?
Severe budget slashing means the city and state housing
departments are struggling to serve as watchdogs. In 1992,
hard times are hitting home.
would-be real estate empire builder, Moishe Bodner
owns at least a dozen buildings in Manhattan and
the Bronx. Coming into the real estate game in the
late 1980s, Bodner was too late to catch the wind-
falls that made investors rich a few years earlier-but still
in time to find banks willing to finance his shaky schemes.
As building after building that he has purchased comes
under the scrutiny of the city housing department and
foreclosure proceedings, the House of Bodner is being
revealed as a house
of cards-and it's
tenants who suffer
amid the shuffle.
144th Street on which he has defaulted on a $3.25 million
mortgage f ! 0 ~ Ensign Federal Savings Bank. At this com-
plex of bUlldmgs, at least one basement was turned into
illegal cubicle dwellings and rented to immigrants from
the Dominican Republic who lived amid exposed wiring
and raw sewage leaking from upstairs, according to a first-
hand account of conditions published in New York
Newsday. "It's not about race, it's not about color-you
just don't do things like that," says tenant advocate Nellie
Bailey from the Columbia Tenants Union.
A tenant at Charlemagne Court, Carol Sutherland, says
she's completely confused about what's happening with
the building now
that Bodner has de-
faulted on the mort-
gage. City Limits
visited State Su-
preme Court and
discovered that the
Resolution Trust
Corporation has
taken over from En-
sign, a failed Sav-
ings and Loan, and
has appointed a re-
ceiver to the build-
There is now a
caretaker, known
as a receiver, at
476 West 141st
Street, a seven-
story Harlem
building where
Bodner had al-
lowed the elevator
to fail, two winters
to go by with spo-
radic heat and hot
water, and riff-raff
to pour in through
the unlocked front
door-not to men-
tion letting the
mortgage go un-
paid. For many ten-
ants, the arrival of
the receiver, heat-
ing oil and the
promise of repairs
is a well-won re-
lief after four years
of wrangling with
The Hole story: Landlord Moishe Bodner has lost control of 1605 Townsend Avenue--and
the Colon family has to live with the mess he's left behind.
Though Bodner
is still in business,
he now spends
much of his time in
city, state and fed-
eral courts, attempt-
ing to hold on to his
crumbling empire.
Of the 12 buildings
that Bodner still
owns in Harlem and
Heights, the build-
ing code violations
total to more than '
Bodner. But for tenant Pat Wright-whose mother died on
a respirator in her seventh-floor apartment last year-
relief has come too late and she will never forget or forgive
Moishe Bodner.
"Many a day my mother sat in this house cold needing
to go to the clinic with the elevator not working," says
Wright. "We had to pay people to carry her up and down
the stairs. I feel that Bodner had lot do with my mother's
passing. I hate that man with a passion."
When asked to explain his financial affairs and the
conditions of his buildings, Bodner passes on his prob-
lems to Mayor David Dinkins. "He should go in and fix the
buildings," Bodner says in a phone interview. Pressed
further, Bodner says that he makes repairs in the buildings
"as they're needed," then hangs up the phone.
Tenants say that Bodner drives fancy cars and carries a
cellular phone with him on visits to the building. His
current financial situation includes a 1990s-style array of
bankruptcy and foreclosure proceedings, but tenants say
his landlording has an old-fashioned simplicity: he per-
sonally knocks on doors demanding rent.
Perhaps Bodner's worst misdeed occurred at the
Charlemagne Court, a series of four buildings on West
18/MARCH 1992/CITY UMns
3,900 and seven of these buildings are in litigation with
the city hqusing department.
His record in the Bronx is no less impressive. At this
writing, there is a warrant for Bodner's arrest in that
borough as well as a judgment for $352,000 for his refusal
to provide regular heat and hot water at 1505 Townsend
Avenue, one of three Bronx buildings where he managed
to rack up more than 1,600 uncorrected housing code
Receivers have been appointed in all three Bronx build-
ings, pending the resolution of foreclosure proceedings
against Bodner, but that doesn't mean he's been out of the
tenants' hair. He attempted to collect rents after a receiver
was appointed to 1605 Townsend, but was recently told
by the court to stay away from the building.
For Paula Colon, the court-ordered departure of Bodner
from 1605 Townsend Avenue has not brought much relief.
Both front door locks are still broken, the hall ways are still
marred with graffiti and inside her apartment the entire
ceiling of her daughter's bedroom has collapsed. While
Bodner can try to walk away from his financial wreckage,
it's the tenants who have to live with the mess he leaves
he tenants in Arjan Mirchandani's buildings
comprise a veritable United Nations-Mexicans,
Indians, Asians, Senegalese, African-Americans,
European Americans, Puerto Ricans, Peruvians and
Ecuadorans, just to name a few. Their commonality:
complaints about the landlord.
Mirchandani controls property worth millions of dol-
lars, including a string of three medium-sized buildings in
Hell's Kitchen and large buildings and garden apartments
spread across Jackson Heights, Rego Park and Flushing in
Queens. The landlord appears to have money-he drives
a red Mercedes-Benz with a licence plate that reads
PRINCES1. But tenants say he is so petty that he avoids
even the simplest chores of ownership and when repairs
are finally done, the work is shoddy.
Three of Mirchandani's buildings-544, 546 and 548
West 50th Street-stand in the shadow of slick new
midtown skyscrapers. Their tenants include Senegalese
vendors, Mexican flower sellers and a core group oflong-
time tenants who have remained in the building through
a whole slew of scurrilous owners. The buildings have a
combined total of more than 700 housing code violations,
70 of them immediately hazardous, according to housing
department inspections this winter.
While some recently-rented apartments have received
major renovations, long-time tenants have been struggling
for years for basic repairs. This creates tensions between
the newcomers and the oldtimers, but in recent tenant
meetings the two groups are starting to come together
through their common concerns.
Dorothea ("Dottie") Bentley, is the fourth generation of
her family to live in the building, and three of her children
also have apartments in the property. "This isn't just an
apartment-it's my home," she says. "I grew up here and
I care aboutthe neighborhood and the community. " Of the
landlord, she says, "This man is really disrupting people's
One newly renovated studio apartment is home to two
Mexican families, eight people living in one small room.
Rosana, age 11, translates for her parents and helps them
pay bills because they don't speak English. She says the
rent is about $700 a month, adding that her parents work
seven days a week, 13 hours a day selling flowers to make
ends meet. She says there's been a drug problem in the
hallways and adds, "Sometimes there is no hot water
when it is very cold."
Some of the apartments in these Hell's Kitchen build-
ings are trul y hellish-a peek into the home of Alex Smith,
age 80, reveals a ceiling that is a Dickensian nightmare of
peeling plaster and rotting wooden laths. But most tenants
say that their prime concern is safety. Late at night, "The
building basically runs in a state of chaos, " says Bob Kalin,
an organizer from Housing Conservation Coordinators
who has been working with the tenants.
A certified letter sent to the landlord by Reynaldo
Bejarano in 1990 lays out the most common concerns: "I
am afraid to go out of my apartment...bums and addicts
and prostitutes enter the building to smoke dope and
engage in sexual activities and they even fall asleep on the
public hallway stairs. "
Although the buildings have been a bit quieter lately
because a new managing agent has cleaned up the hall-
ways, the security problems are still known by the local
community police officer, Kevin O'Connor. "The doors
are open regularly," he says, adding that there's a special
security risk because all three buildings share a common
backyard, and anyone that comes into one building can
usually get into the others.
At 94-06 34th Road in Jackson Heights, Queens, a large
brick building wi th an unlocked front door, Mirchandani' s
Indian and Latino tenants have their own complaints.
With the help of housing organizers from the Jackson
Heights Community Development Corporation (]BCDC) ,
a small group of tenants filed rent overcharge claims with
"I am afraid to
go out of my
apartment ... bums
and addicts and
prostitutes enter
the building to
smoke dope and
engage in sexual
activities. "
the state housing de-
partment and after
years of waiting, their
claims were con-
firmed. These tenants
are now owed money
by the landlord-in
one case, which the
landlord is still con-
testing, the state hous-
ing department de-
cided that Romelia
Jiminez was over-
charged a whopping
$30,751. Other tenants
in the building have
had their rent reduced
by the state housing
department because of
problems with ser-
vices and repairs. In-
side the voluminous
files of tenant com-
plaints about Mirch-
andani at the one-
room office of the Jackson Heights housing group are
documents showing that the landlord is still billing tenants
incorrectly-and illegally charging them late fees for the
Although the exterior is clean, 94-06 34th Road has
more than 300 housing code violations. Many Indian
tenants in the building refuse to speak out publicly against
Mirchandani, who is also Indian, but some of them took a
City Limits reporter on a tour of their apartments, revealing
water leaks, holes in walls and a vast array of malfunction-
ing plumbing. For the first time, the tenants are starting to
organize and posters in the building'S hallways proclaim
"Rent Strike" in English and Spanish. This pressure is
starting to payoff: at a recent meeting a representative for
the landlord promised to provide an on-site super and
start substantive repairs.
At four garden apartment buildings on Austin Street in
Rego Park, Mirchandani is currently the debtor-in-posses-
sion after the building went into foreclosure. Mirchandani
tried to turn these buildings into co-ops and the doors are
locked and the intercoms working, but sloppy repair work
prevails. Plasterwork in the hallways has been done in
various shades of grey, white and mustard and cracks in
the front steps have been covered with uneven splotches
of cement. Inside, many tenants have had rent reductions
granted by the state housing department because of the
landlord's failure to make decent repairs, according to
tenant leader Susan Burstein. "Everything they do, they
do cosmetically," she says. "It's like putting a Band Aid on
a broken arm."
For a number of tenants, rent reductions can't make up
for deteriorating apartments. In 63-70 Austin, Edith
Entenberg, S4, displays the creeping black rot on the
white walls of her bedroom and living room. "I
hved here 26 years and I never had any trouble until he
took over," she says. "What can I do? I talk and talk and
it doesn't do any good."
In another apartment, a male tenant has multiple
sclerosis and depends on a wheelchair and a motorized
scooter for mobility. Last October, he encountered
Mirchandani in the basement storage room, where he
had been parking his scooter. The tenant, who did not
want his name published, says the landlord forbade him
to store his scooter there and ordered the super to change
the locks, forcing him to dismantle the scooter and store it
in the trunk of a friend's car. "I was a prisoner in my own
house," he recalls, adding that only after after calls were
made to the federal Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD), did the landlord change his tune.
This account of events was confirmed by an equal opport-
unities investigator at HUD.
At a number of Mirchandani buildings, tenants say that
when the landlord is under pressure, he does change his
position or bring in a managing company committed to
make repairs. But in many cases, this energy is short-lived
and hard-working managers disappear. Michael Risch, a
managing agent for Trebol Realty Asset Management,
explains why his company resigned from running
Mirchandani's properties. "We failed to see eye to eye
regarding the philosophy of running buildings. We seek
long-term solutions rather than short-term solutions."
A prime example ofMirchandani's short-term approach
took place at the Alpine, a complex of four buildings in
Jackson Heights, Queens. The buildings are currently in
foreclosure, but Mirchandani was in control in 19S9. At
that time the city's Department of Environmental Protection
(DEP) fined the ownership group, the Manchester-Jackson
Heights Association, $46,500 for illegal asbestos removal,
according to Ian Michaels from DEP.
Despite his problems with government agencies and
tenants, little is known about Mirchandani, who has an
office in Queens. His real estate holdings are owned by a
variety of corporations with different names, including
Loyalty Realty, and tenants say he travels frequently and
appears to be involved in international business. City
Limits made numerous calls to try to speak to Mirchandani
personally, but a secretary said, "He doesn't want to have
anything to do with you."
Tenants in Mirchandani's buildings aren't surprised by
the landlord's standoffishness. They just wish he'd do the
right thing. As Guillermo Garcia says, "We don't want a
doorman, but we want a decent place to live."
few years ago, Mark Higbee was sued by his land-
lord. Higbee led a tenants association at 621 West
172nd Street and helped organize a rent strike to
protest the deteriorating physical conditions of the
building. The landlords, Michael and Florence Edelstein
sued Higbee for damages, charging "intentional
of economic harm." They lost in State Supreme Court, but
that didn't mean their ploy didn't have the desired impact.
The suit froze the tenants in their tracks, says Higbee, at
least for a time. "It was effective," he says. "It focused the
energy of the tenants association on the suit rather than on
organizing. Even though we won a legal victory, where did
that leave us? It left us where we were."
It was just one of many similar maneuvers by the lords
of the Edelstein real estate empire, an empire built during
the last few decades mainly in Washington Heights. The
"We caught
them red-
handed. These
people violated
every law in the
book for asbes-
tos removal."
Edelsteins own at least
20 apartment build-
ings in upper Manhat-
tan. They have fought
tenant leaders with
lawsuits and eviction
efforts; they have been
nailed by state regula-
tors for rent over-
charges, and, in at least
one case last year, they
were caught evicting a
tenant after a judge
ordered them not to.
The Edelsteins are not
slumlords. Instead,
they are sophisticated
real estate schemers
who have found ways
to legally evade rent
regulations and silence tenant complaints. Fortunately for
tenants, the government has at times caught the Edelsteins
in some of their more flagrant attempts to avoid expensive
and necessary repairs.
Florence and Michael Edelstein, and their sons Ronald
and Marc, own many of the largest apartment buildings in
Washington Heights. And they have converted at least
eight apartment buildings into cooperatives, in some
cases effectively removing vacant apartments from the
strictures of rent control and rent stabilization, then re-
taining ownership and renting them at market rates. In
fact, Ronald's office on Bennett Avenue is a rental office in
one of the co-ops. .
In the last decade, the Edelsteins have unsuccessfully
sued a neighborhood group, the Northern Manhattan
Improvement Corporation, and at least three tenant lead-
ers for libel and defamation, among other things, costing
one tenant $10,000 in legal fees. "I didn't realize when it
happened what an effective weapon he had chosen," says
a tenant whose case is still unresolved. "In a libel suit, you
aren't entitled to counsel. Lawyers are not looking to take
the case when they see you're not a rich person," he says.
Some Edelstein buildings have a long history of code
violations. In one case, following a long rent strike at 124
Fort George Avenue in the mid-19S0s, a housing court
judge ordered the landlords to repair hazardous condi-
tions including faulty front door locks. Within days, a
tenant, Bella Rincon, was viciously assaulted by a stranger
in a hallway and suffered severe damage to one eye. She
sued Michael Edelstein for providing inadequate security.
While the jury was out, the landlord's attorneys settled the
case for more than $300,000.
Two years later, the state's Department of Housing and
Community Renewal
(DHCR) rejected a rent
increase request filed
by the Edelsteins be-
cause the doors still
didn't lock. And two
yearsafierthat, in 1989,
the tenants won a rent
reduction for the same
policeman from the
neighborhood ,
counter-sued. In June,
Judge Jerald Klein or-
dered the landlord to
forgive about half the
outstanding rent and
complete certain re-
pairs. Temporary re-
pairs were made, but
six months later the
city's housing depart-
C2 ment listed 215 more
~ immediately hazard-
Qli ous violations of the
Today, after re-
peated battles, 124 Fort
George has better locks
and a security gate, but
city inspectors found
more than 100 code ProINIes, PromIses: Landlord Marc Edelstein attempts to defend himself to tenants
violations in the build- at 560 West 144th Street.
housing code in the 44-
unit building, and 763
ing on December 3,
1991. And tenants still experience questionable actions
on the part of the landlord. Last November, Edelstein
flouted a court order preventing the eviction of Xiomera
Rivera, and a city marshall dumped the woman and her
belongings out on the street. Two days later in housing
court the woman won her apartment back.
Rivera is one of 27 current Edelstein tenants who have
filed rent-overcharge cases against their landlords with
DHCR. At least 16 other overcharge cases against the
Edelsteins have been decided in favor of the tenants,
according to a DHCR spokesperson. Many of the tenants
have been sued for non-payment of rent while the cases
lingered in the regulators' files.
Calls to the elder Edelsteins, Florence and Michael,
were not returned. The Edelsteins' lawyer, Eliot J. Cherson,
said the family would make no comment on the various
suits and accusations.
Even the slightly more upscale Edelstein buildings
have seen strange things happen. On June 2, 1991, the
city's Department ofEnvironmental Protection (DEP) found
three laborers removing asbestos from the basement of
1781 Riverside Drive without licenses, permits, protec-
tive gear or a containment system. "We caught them red-
handed," says Ian Michaels, a DEP spokesperson. "These
people violated just about every law in the book for
asbestos removal." The city fined Michael and Florence
Edelstein $38,000, and forced them to pay for the proper
removal of the toxic material.
At 560 West 144th Street, just off Broadway on a block
rife with drug peddlers, Marc Edelstein is attempting to
carry the family business into the government-subsidized
sector of building renovation. More than two years ago he
bought the extremely deteriorated, low-income building
and set out to obtain city financing for repair work. Today
he says the government-backed loan package is on the
lesser violations, in an
inspection report dated December 17, 1991. Today, resi-
dents' apartments remain a shambles as sporadic con-
struction work is carried out over months at a stretch.
While the government financing plan has not been
finalized, the city's Department of Housing Preservation
and Development says it is committed to channeling
$590,000 in federal funds and a $371,000 loan from the
bank-backed Community Preservation Corporation to
Edelstein for the building's renovation during the next ten
months. The plan will make the building profitable by
providing federal rent subsidies to qualified tenants. The
landlord himself argues that the bad apartments are "the
precise reason for the loan."
Edelstein, a short man with a deep Acapulco tan,
recently took a City Limits reporter on a tour of the
building. As he argued with tenants in the hallways, he
spoke of his efforts to renovate their homes, and pointed
to construction already underway. "This is new for me,"
he says, referring to his ownership of a very low-income
building. "It's not to the liking of my family. It's a horren-
dous investment. But the tenants are picking on every
little thing. They have heat, they have services, their
homes are livable."
But "livable" is not the way to describe an apartment
where a 77-year-old widow in ill-health has lived for two
months with exposed wiring, half of a bathroom, and no
kitchen. In the presence of City Limits, Edelstein vowed to
finish work within two weeks.
After months of similar vows, many tenants remain
skeptical. "This man keeps on promising, promising,
promising," says Rosa Richardson. "But nothing hap-
verge of coming through. KING OF DARKNESS
In the meantime, many tenants live in gut-wrenching
squalor. In apartment 57, the bathroom ceiling has col-
lapsed. The hole in Mary and Robert Copeland's first floor
ceiling grows larger every day as hot water drips con-
stantly from the heating pipes. Windows that the fire
department knocked out fighting a fire last November
have yet to be replaced, casting two apartments and four
floors of the building's central hallways into darkness.
Last spring, Edelstein moved to evict several tenants
who had been on rent strike for more then a year. The
tenants, who organized with the help of a now-retired
hen you first walk into 317 Troutman, an eight-
unit walk-up owned by landlord Ezekial King on
a residential block in an otherwise industrial
section of Bushwick, it's hard to ignore two
obvious sensory details. The Stench. And the Darkness.
The long entrance hallway is virtually pitch-black and
permeated by an odor of dank rot seeping upwards from
the basement. So quiet and so disturbing a place, you
might think 317 Troutman had been emptied of tenants-
and in part it has been.
Most of the tenants
have left, and only
three families are still
hanging on, still fight-
ing to get services from
bankruptcy court, it
was so crooked, no one
could figure out what
was going on," says
Wayne Saitta of Brook-
lynLegalServices, who
has also now filed pa-
pers to get a 7 A admin-
istrator installed at 317
Though King
claimed these structur-
ally sub-standard
eight-unit buildings on
Troutman were worth
$330,000 apiece, real
estate experts say their
u: actual value is closer
At 317 Troutman,
tenants say King used
to come around with
his bad temper and evil
stares to collect their
rent, but in the past six
months he's been stay-
ingaway. The only evi-
dence of his continu-
ing presence, they say,
is a Brooklyn Union
Gas bill that arrived in
one of the tenants' mail-
Trouble Above: Jose Padilla of 317 Troutman Street in his ramshackle bathroom.
to $80,000 apiece. Still,
King was able to take
out not only one, but two, mortgages on the buildings,
totaling $386,400. The lenders were EBA Associates in
Flushing and Eagle S.A. Funding Company.
boxes showing that King was $10,252.73 past due.
317 Troutman is one of four Bushwick buildings owned
by King and they're all in horrendous physical shape-
even though King lives in one of them and has spent time
in jail for failing to make court-ordered repairs. Docu-
ments in bankruptcy court reveal the shaky financial
foundation beneath two of his buildings, but there's not
much more explanation because numerous calls to King
from City Limits were not returned.
An inspection report on 317 Troutman from last No-
vember lists 122 pending violations ofthe building code,
including 25 emergency violations. But the numbers don't
reflect the mind-boggling conditions inside and outside
the apartments here. A leak from the roof drips all the way
through four floors into the basement, which is filled with
old garbage and water. Throughout the apartments, some
bathroom ceilings are broken so completely that you can
see a tangled mess ofrotting beams and pipes as far as the
light will take you. And in one apartment a wooden cross
holds up part of the kitchen ceiling.
As for security, the tenants have bought their own lock
for the front door to keep out the junkies that line the
street, and as far as the boiler goes, it is completely
broken-no heat at all-so tenants leave their ovens on
and open all day, with the burners blazing.
Although the city has installed hot water heaters for the
remaining three apartments, the fate of this building
remains unclear. While King's building next door had
such bad conditions that it has been taken over by a city-
appointed caretaker, known as a 7 A administrator, the
remaining tenants in 317 are expecting to go without heat
for the rest of the winter and early spring. "We didn't have
hot water for months," says Jenny Torres, who lives in one
of the ground floor apartments with her 10-year-old daugh-
ter. "My daughter can't take a bath or a shower here. I can't
even have her here-she's at my mother's-it's freezing in
this apartment."
King, who has been owner for four years, appears to
have been playing with shadow money, taking his cue
from mega-financiers such as Robert Maxwell. In a bank-
ruptcy proceeding that King filed for his buildings a(317
and 321 Troutman in an attempt to stop a court-appointed
7 A administrator from taking over 321, attorneys found
multiple mortgages had been taken out on the Troutman
buildings. The financing was a long and winding road. "In
Even if he had been collecting the total rent rolls on the
two buildings, Saitta says, the rents would have only
amounted to a small portion of the cost of the monthly
mortgages that King was bound to pay. And as it was, he
only ended up making two payments before filing for
bankruptcy protection-filing on the same day that he was
scheduled to have a 7 A hearing in housing court on 321
Though King's filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy effec-
tively halted the 7 A proceedings temporarily-so King
could continue collecting rents-the bankruptcy court
judge ultimately ruled that the bankruptcy should not
stop the 7 A hearing from going forward. And as soon as
King lost control of321 Troutman to the 7 A administrator,
he petitioned to drop his bankruptcy claim.
Since then, tenants at 317 Troutman say he has told
them he no longer owns their building, but housing
department records still list him as the landlord.
At two other King buildings, 121 and 123 Thames
Street, there were 560 building code violations on just 16
units-most of which are vacant-including 163 emer-
gency violations. Because of violations in 1990, King was
actually jailed for failing to make court-ordered repairs on
a single apartment at 121 Thames. And in a case that city
attorneys have brought, he again faces potential jail time
for being in contempt of an order to make comprehensive
repairs on the Thames properties. City attorneys are also
seeking to collect a total of $423,725 in civil penalties
based on this existing order.
So if you ask Lorraine Figueroa, one of the last remain-
ing tenants at 123 Thames, why King is a louse, she doesn't
point to her broken bathroom ceiling, the holes in her
walls or the exposed wiring on the ceiling. No, she shows
you her hands, bloated and blistering at age 31. "Look how
ugly they are," she says. "I've got five kids and I've got to
cook and wash in the freezing cold water." Usually,
Figueroa doesn't get heat or hot water, even though King
lives with his five children next door.
But King isn't home at the moment. City Limits tried to
reach him at Elmhurst Hospital, where he is recuperating
after being shot three times in the knees by two masked
men who came knocking on his apartment door at 121
Thames Street. Police say they don't know yet who is
responsible or what the motive was, but people in the
neighborhood say they aren't really surprised. "He had a
lot of enemies," says one Thames Street resident.
ike landlord Keith Outram, "the Doric" at 588 Park
Place in Brooklyn has a pleasing exterior. Tenants
say the landlord is handsome, with a ready smile,
and the building itself has been freshly painted in
yellow and grey. But there are grave flaws behind the
When Sylvia Bishop moved into the Doric with her kids
three years ago, she thought the price seemed good and she
was attracted by Outram's promise ofturning the building
into a co-op. Now she regrets that she couldn't foresee that
during the winter the walls of her bedroom would become
coated with a fetid, blotchy black mildew; or that a gaping
hole in her kitchen ceiling would go unrepaired for months;
or that she would have to take her baby and asthmatic son
to relatives' homes when the heat snapped off. Today,
Bishop rues the day she met Outram.
"He can really sweet talk you," she says. "You trust him
and then he puts you through hell."
The co-op plan submitted by Outram four years ago has
failed, partly because tenants became convinced that the
poor conditions in the building weren't worth the $40,000
to $50,000 that Outram was asking for each unit. And as of
mid-November last year, city inspectors documented a
total of 530 building code violations at the Doric, 80 of
them classified as immediately hazardous.
What makes some tenants-who are now withholding
rent and putting it into a separate account-even more
bitter is that in another part of Crown Heights Outram
owns five brand new condominium townhouses draped
with signs that boast, "ANOTHER OUTRAM DEVELOP-
FOR SALE." Though few if any of the brick and wood-trim
units seem to be occupied, a green Jaguar XJ6 is parked in
the private driveway outside the Hawthorne Street unit
listed in the phone book as Outram's residential address.
While Outram focuses on selling his new condomini um
properties, tenants say conditions in the Doric appear to
be getting worse rather than better, despite continuing
litigation on their behalf by the city's housing department
and legal aid attorneys. For example, when Outram signed
a court document in the summer of 1990, agreeing to
correct 385 housing code violations at the Doric, tenants
and their advocates thought they had claimed a victory. A
year later, however, housing inspectors found a total of
525 violations in the building, 240 more than there had
been at the time he was bound by the court to improve
Similarly, Outram was fined $2,000 in September of
last year for failing to provide consistent heat and hot
water to 588 Park Place. Since then, heat and hot water
violations have continued to pile up against Outram and
he has yet to pay the existing fine.
In the end, last December, Outram was fined $498,985
for civil contempt and failing to correct hundreds of
building code violations. Despite Outram's claims on the
witness stand during a drawn-out, month-long trial that
he had made the repairs, Judge Margaret Taylor was not
persuaded and issued a warrant for Outram's arrest, de-
claring that he was to remain in the Bronx House of
Detention until the agreed-upon repairs had been made.
However, Outram won a stay from the appellate court and
he is now seeking an appeal to Taylor's decision.
Smooth-talking and affable, Outram is very good at
giving the impression that he truly believes the Doric is in
fine shape. In a phone interview, he says that "naturally"
he is providing consistent heat and hot water-even
though city inspectors found the heat off on January 17,
one of the coldest days of winter. He says with a chuckle
that he was "never" jailed for failing to comply with a
court order directing him to make repairs, even though
court transcripts show that his own lawyer stated before
Judge Taylor that he hadbeenimprisoned. Finally, he says
that all the repair problems have been corrected, even
though this flies in the face of inspection reports filed by
the city and even the most cursory tour of apartments.
Essentially, Outram contends that the problems in the
Doric exist only in the minds of his tenants. Of the 21
units, nine are currently involved in a rent strike, paying
their rents into a separate bank account until repairs are
made in the apartments. Outram, however, refuses to
acknowledge the strike and is suing to evict all nine
tenants based on non-payment of their rent. He insists that
the building is in "reasonable condition."
"Every building in Brooklyn will have complaints, but
there's nothing life threatening here," says Outram. "The
situation is that we've got some ringleaders, and the only
way to collect rents from the ringleaders is through the
Meanwhile, more and more tenants say they have
become disabused of Outram's initial charm. Today, ten-
ant Dory Kyler admits she actually believed Outram was
doing her a favor when she moved in to the Doric. "My
credit was bad and when I first came here, I thought this
man was giving me a chance."
A year and ahalflater, Kyler says it's nota chance she's
been given but a test of her strength. Outram was actually
successful in evicting her and her children from her
apartment for two weeks last year, but the court let Kyler
back in, and she says she still faces serious problems.
"When I get up in the morning, I have to turn on the oven,
so that when my kids get up I can rush them into a warm
room. Then I have to heat up water so they can wash in a
basin in the living room," she says. "I've gone through a
living hell. And all I can say to my kids is, 'Well, at least
you've got your own room'"
avid Wallk doesn't trust his tenants. That's why he
doesn't tell them his real name. "You want to give
out your home address so that tenants who are
evicted can come and hit you over the head?" he
asks a reporter in an agitated phone conversation from his
unlisted address in Brooklyn.
Wallk's tenants aren't the only ones who know him by
his alias: he registered the five Bronx apartment buildings
he bought in the late 1980s under the name David Isaacs.
By hiding his name, it's as if Wallk was preparing for the
a,:,alanche of trouble now tumbling down upon his head.
CIty, state and federal agencies are all either investigating
him or preparing charges against him. He's lost at least two
of his Bronx properties to foreclosure, and he was arrested
January 15th on charges of assault, criminal possession of
a weapon and harassment following a fight with a tenant
association leader. He also faces prosecution in housing
court for not maintaining habitable homes for several of
his tenants.
Tenants say Wallk frequently visits his buildings, driv-
ing a beat-up station wagon, sweating profusely and car-
rying a suitcase stuffed full of papers. Some of the papers
may relate to the multitude of housing court cases he has
brought against tenants and tenants have brought against
him; others might concern his awesome indebtedness,
which includes a $1.15 million mortgage on a once-
beautiful but now dilapidated Art Deco apartment house
at 2150 Creston Avenue in the heart of a drug-plagued
Bronx neighborhood.
Wallk's debts are dragging him down. He now owns
only three of the five buildings registered under his alias,
David Isaacs. The first of the five buildings to slip through
his hands last year was a decaying tenement on Clay
Avenue loaded with housing code violations, grafitti and
disgruntled tenants. "I talked to the landlord," recalls
tenant Carmen Batista when asked about Wallk. "But he
never did nothing." The mortgage holders foreclosed on
the property, and a new landlord showed up about six
months ago, tenants say.
Last October, city inspectors noted 452 housing viola-
tions at another of Wallk's buildings, a 37-unit, yellow
brick building at 21 West Mosholu Parkway North. A few
months later Wallk lost the property in foreclosure pro-
ceedings to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation,
known as Freddie Mac. Irregularities in the previous
owner's application for the $765,000 mortgage, and its
transferral to Wallk, drew the attention of congressional
investigators researching the federally-sponsored mort-
gage agency. They referred the case to the US Attorney's
office, which refuses to confirm or deny whether the
building or its former owners are the subject of a Justice
Department investigation.
One thing everyone agrees on is that the building was
drastically over-financed. Unfortunately for tenants, that
meant necessary repairs and maintenance were left un-
done while the landlord spent his money servicing the
debt. Rubbish piled up in a rear alleyway, where heaps of
broken furniture, plaster, tar buckets, and household
garbage still sit, weeks after the foreclosure. In mid-
December the Department of Buildings inspected the
property's electrical system and found defective fixtures,
wiring, and plug fuses in all the apartments.
Tenants in the building battled with Wallk, going on
rent strike and insisting that he improve conditions. At
one point seven months ago, state regulators awarded
fourth-floor resident Ana Urban a rent reduction and
ordered repairs throughout her apartment, where large
holes in the bathroom walls expose wood rafters and leaky
piping. In October, after Wallk replaced Urban's son's
broken bedroom wall, the landlord gave Urban a papef to
sign. She doesn't read English and didn't know what she
was signing, but she did it anyway. "He told me I had to
sign," she says, in halting English. The document reads:
"Tenant signed below affirming that all work has been
completed." On a recent visit by City Limits, it was clear
that most of the work listed on the paper had not even been
Throughout the building, walls and ceilings have
crumbled, and temporary repair work shows signs of
deterioration. Wires hang exposed where fixtures belong;
water runs across floors and down walls. Dozens of ten-
ants crowd in the lobby around a reporter to bemoan their
former landlord. It's clear that WaUk, an Orthodox Jew,
doesn't discriminate in the way he. treats his tenants; two
Wires hang
exposed where
fixtu res belong.
Water runs
across floors and
down walls.
Dozens of tenants
crowd around a
reporter to
bemoan landlord
David Wallk.
white residents, an
elderly Polish-Jew-
ish couple in their
late 80s named Sam
and Vera Green, live
in conditions every
bit as bad as their
Indian, Hispanic
and Caribbean
On the phone,
Wallk insists that his
troubles at 21 West
Mosholu Parkway
are not the result of
his own negligence,
but of the malicious
work of tenant orga-
nizer David
McKenzie. WaHk
says McKenzie
turned the tenants
against him and in-
stigated an 18-
month rent strike
that undermined
maintenance and
mortgage payments.
"How can you run a
building without rent?" he asks. Despite the building's
miserable condition, Wallk says that "McKenzie has made
a profession of being a trouble maker. Ninety percent of
the tenants would have paid rent if it wasn't for him."
Tenants say WaUk has problems accepting criticism or
complaints. His antipathy for McKenzie broke into a
shoving match when.Freddie Mac inspectors were in the
building last November, witnesses say. Each man says the
other attacked him, but police arrested Wallk. His case is
scheduled for a hearing in Bronx criminal court this
Another tenant, Enedina Vasquez, recently filed a ha-
rassment complaint against WaUk alleging verbal abuse
and his refusal to give her a copy of her lease. The state
Department of Housing and Community Renewal is inves-
tigating the incident, according to a spokesperson.
The city's housing department says it is preparing
criminal contempt charges against Wallk for not complet-
ing repair work ordered in a tenant action in housing court
last summer. The possible penalties include a short stay in
jail. In July, 1990, Wallk agreed in housing court to pay a
fine of $6 ,000 and give tenants rent abatements in a similar
case at another building he no longer controls, 54 West
174th Street.
Wallk's troubles extend to city debts as well. At the
Mosholu Parkway building, Wallk owed about $31,000 to
the city in unpaid taxes in the hallways, while
and water charges be- the elevator was bro-
fore the foreclosure, ac- ken beyond use and
cording to housing de- windows were shat-
partment records. tered, repairmen were
He also owes the city hard at work. Their
about $7,400 for emer- task? Painting the front
gency repairs at his steps!
Creston Avenue prop- At two other Sneed
erty, where his tenants buildings-155 and
must run a gauntlet of ~ 157 West 129th Street,
drug dealers in the ~ conditions are equally
foyer, pass through the ~ bad. The doors of both
stench of garbage ": buildingsareunlocked
heaped in the dirt- :..-...:_---1 ~ and Mamadou
caked lobby and stair- BoIIInc Over: Landlord Benjamin Sneed tries to persuade the police that City Limits Cissokho, a Senegalese
wells, and put up with trespassed on his property. vendor who lives in a
sloppy repairs-when first floor studio with
they happen at all. "This apartment, forget it," says Yolanda his brother, says heat and hot water is inconsistent, point-
Camara, a tenant for 10 years, as she surveys the gaping, ing to the heater he bought to keep warm. Referring to the
rotted holes in her bathroom and kitchen. landlord, he says, "He comes and asks for the rent. He's
But Wallk himself doesn't think his problems are that nice only for the money."
exceptional. "There are many landlords in New York," he Next door, at 157 West 129th Street, ChrisAna Key's
says. "Why do you choose me?" bleak one bedroom apartment has no light whatsoever in
the bathroom, broken closet doors, a stove that doesn't
work and a water faucet that runs constantly. She says
ike the heat and hot water in his buildings, Benjamin
Sneed is erratic. Sometimes he runs hot, yelling,
cursing and glaring. Other times he runs cool, dis-
playing his smooth-talking lawyer's charm. And
sometimes he just doesn't show up at all.
Sneed lives in the leafy suburb of New Rochelle and has
his law office in a pleasant brownstone he owns on the
Upper West Side, but his four Harlem buildings have a
total of more than 1,000 housing code violations and the
living conditions in some of them are so bad that they've
been the target of litigation by the city's housing depart-
On a recent visit to 116-118 West 112th Street, a 25-unit
Sneed building with more than 600 housing code viola-
tions, the door was wide open, the hallway smeared with
graffiti and empty crack vials sat on the windowsills. A
first floor resident, Minnie Williams, age 93, says she often
hears the landlord hollering in the hallway for rent. "He's
very nasty," says the polite but angry senior citizen.
Sitting on her bed, her wheelchair beside her, with pic-
tures of Jesus and Nelson Mandela on the walls above,
Williams says she pays her rent fastidiously even though
one of her three small rooms is unusable because one wall,
saturated from leaks, is coated with a mildewy fungus.
Upstairs, in Evelyn Bowman's apartment on the fourth
floor, a hole in the kitchen floor is big enough for the light
from a downstairs apartment to shine through. And Delores
Williams in apartment 42 adds, "You can't talk to him-
he just curses you out." In her apartment, the landlord
started to do some work after he was taken to court, but the
work is still incomplete. "He says we don't let people in,
but that's not true," she says.
Sneed's repairmen were on site at West 112th Street
during the recent visit by City Limits. While tiles were
cracked and the once-ornate plaster ceiling was crumbling
she's stopped paying rent and is moving to Atlanta be-
cause she's gi ven up all hope of turning the apartment into
a home. "I wouldn't give this apartment to my worst
enemy," she says.
As City Limits goes to press, Sneed is currently on trial
and could face imprisonment or steep fines because of his
failure to correct violations at 112th Street-including
numerous documented shortages of heat and hot water.
He recently settled a case regarding conditions at 157 West
129th Street, paying a fine of $4,000.
When City Limits visited some of Sneed's Harlem
buildings, a reporter and photographer met the landlord
on site and experienced the various temperatures of his
personality first-hand. At first Sneed exploded like a
firecracker, threatening to destroy the photographer's cam-
era, warning that he would sue City Limits for trespassing
on his property, and refusing to allow the City Limits
staffers to leave his building until he called the police. In
response to questions, he bellowed, "I don't have to say a
fucking word to you!"
Once the police arrived and informed Sneed that his
trespassing concerns were unfounded, the landlord calmed
down and agreed to be interviewed. He said he has
repeatedly installed locks and intercoms to try and make
his buildings safer but drug dealers have destroyed his
efforts. He also argued that tenants won't let workers in to
their apartments to make repairs. Smartly dressed in a cap,
tie, double-breasted navy-blue blazer and a camel over-
coat, the landlord looked disdainfully down the Harlem
block. "The neighborhood speaks for itself," he said.
Promising to substantiate his claims about problems
gaining access to tenants' apartments, Sneed vowed to call
the City Limits office and set up an interview with himself
and the leader of his work crew. He never made the call.
Broken promises like this are familiar to tenants like
Minnie Williams. Referring to the landlord's claims that
repairs will be made, she notes, "He says somebody will
come right over-but he's been saying that ever since I
moved in on February 3, 1975!" 0
CRY UMnS/MARCH 1992/25
By Bobbie Sackman
Remember the Elderly
id you know that studies in the
1950s painted strikingly alarm-
ing portraits of the elderly-
those over 60 years old-
eating cat food? Did you know that a
New York state
study in the
1980s showed
that if you are
female, minor-
ity, poor and
frail, you stand
over a 50 per-
cent chance of
going one day a
week without
any food at all?
New York City
alone has about
75 percent of
the state's mi-
nority, elderly
........ 111 II
.... 11. I IIF ..
.. .c.
There are 1.3 million people over
the age of 60 living in the city. The
popular image of the elderly today is
that they're comfortably retired and
secure; some in the press and else-
where call them "greedy geezers" and
argue that they get too big a piece ,of
the government pie. In fact, in New
York City, one out of every four of the
city's older residents has an annual
income of less than $10,000. That
leaves about three dollars a day after
food and rent to pay for transpor-
tation, clothing, medical care, utili-
ties, telephone and emergencies. And
the fastest growing population in the
city is also its poorest and most
vulnerable, the over-85 group.
Public Commibnent Wanes
Hunger among the elderly is a very
real crisis. For three . decades our
government has risen to the challenge
and funded food and nutrition
programs, entitlement assistance
networks, counseling and other
supportive services, so that the horrors
of the 1950s are no longer so common.
But the public commitment to counter
the tragedy of poverty among seniors
has begun to wane. As Albany legis-
lators talk about balancing their books,
and the city redirects scarce federal
and state monies, the possible closing
of critical senior centers and other
programs for the elderly looms ever
closer. Food programs have been
scaled back, staff has been cut, pen-
26/MARCH 1992/Cnv U MITS
sions for workers are non-existant.
New York needs to firm up its
commitmentto senior centers and food
programs that provide nutrition,
promote wellness and prevent social
isolation. These are preventive
services that are the key to cost-
effective, compassionate and sensible
care. We ought to provide services
that keep men and women from
becoming homebound for as long as
possible, instead of providing for them
only after they can no longer leave
their homes. The elderly have one of
the highest rates of suicide in the
nation, and social isolation is a major
reason why.
The city has 346 senior centers that
provide over 14 million meals annu-
ally. But just about every government
source of funding for senior centers
has been cut. Unfortunately, city-
funded programs for seniors are
vulnerable to budget cuts because
there is nothing in the law that says
the city has to feed and offer supportive
services to the elderly.
In the current year's budget (Fiscal
1992), the city cut $6 million from
senior center funding. The Dinkins
administration originally proposed a
devastating $12 million decrease, but
the Council of Senior Centers and
Services (CSCS) of New York City
spearheaded a three-month campaign
to prevent the axe from falling. Seniors
sent thousands of paper plates to the
mayor and City Council members with
the simple message, "Who decides
who eats today?" The mayor restored
$6 million to fund 1.2 million meals.
While the reinstatement was
appreciated, programs were still
deeply cut for the third consecutive
year, resulting in layoffs and severe
reductions in the money needed for
meals, transportation, friendly visiting
and other services. Meanwhile, state
and federally funded nutritional
services for the elderly have not kept
pace with inflation. The Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance program, which
provides funds for meals for the
homebound elderly, has not had an
increase in three years. Thousands of
meals have been lost due to inflation.
One of the previously dependable
sources of support for the centers,
member-item funds channeled to
programs by members of the state
legislature, was cut almost in halflast
year. The cuts were made in the name
of good government, but member-item
money is not always irresponsible,
"pork barrel" spending. The cuts have
left some centers on the brink of
closing. Others have had to cut food
programs based in churches, syna-
gogues and other community sites,
that provide thousands of meals every
day to seniors. Still others have
drastically cut their transportation
programs, leaving men and women
virtually stuck in their homes. For
community based programs, this
money is their lifeline. These funds
should be transferred into the baseline
budgets of programs and protected if
state member-item funds are to
continue to erode.
Erosion In Federal Funding
The federal Older Americans Act,
enacted in 1965, provided the infusion
of funds that created senior center
nutrition programs nationwide.
However, over the past decade,
funding has not increased, leading to
a 30 percent erosion in the purchasing
power of these federal dollars. Once
again, dollars to meet the nutritional
needs ofthe elderly are cut while the
elderly population grows.
CSCS is currently working with a
statewide coalition to enact the
Congregate Services Initiative, which
would strengthen the state's commit-
ment to preventive care by creating a
funding stream specifically for
programs like senior centers. The
money would come from the restruc-
turing of existing funds. It is through
the strengthening of preventive ser-
vices that the state will ultimately
save money on long term care. The
organization is also calling for a
research effort here in the city. There
has never been a study done in New
York City on hunger and the elderly.
Such a study would be a good
beginning to increasing the visibility
of these vulnerable neighbors.
So where are all the "greedy gee-
zers"? Not in New York, where thou-
sands of elderly people are hungry
and poor. And while social programs
for the elderly have been among the
most successful anti-poverty efforts
in the United States, their success is
no reason to pull back on funding. 0
City View is a forum for opinion
and does not necessarily reflect
the views of City Limits.
By Eric Weinstock
Trump: The Last Word?
the actual record, and scores of
government officials with conflicts of
interest. About halfway through this
massive book the reader realizes that
even if only half the allegations are
true, Trump is the ultimate fraud and
corrupter of the political process.
"Trump: The Deals and the Down-
fall," by Wayne Barrett, Harper Collins
Publishers, 1992, $23.00, hardcover,
492 pages, photographs.
ayne Barrett has given us the
ultimate dealography of
Donald Trump, the icon of
1 980s excess. For those who
are still following the former boy
wonder developer from Queens, this
book lays bare the art of the steal and
the political system that fostered
Trump's rise.
Barrett refused to give in to temp-
tation and do a rush job to cash in on
the Trump divorce headlines of 1990.
He's written a large and thorough book,
interviewing scores of people. How-
ever, Trump refused to grant him an
interview and urged his business part-
ners to avoid him as well. Trump even
had Barrett arrested when he tried to
enter a press event where he had been
denied a press pass. Unlike Kitty Kelly,
Barrett is brutally honest with his
readers about the limits of the bio-
graphy, noting that Trump's recal-
citrance hampers the perspective of
the book.
Still, to this reader, the lack of new
Trump interviews was not a problem.
I've read Trump's autobiographies and
followed his career closely, but I
gained an enormous amount of new
information from Barrett. Many people
have pointed out Donald Trump's fail-
ure to credit his father, developer Fred
Trump, for bankrolling him and
teaching him the business. Barrett
investigates Fred Trump's rise in real
estate and discovers that he too was
guilty of not crediting his father
(Donald's grandfather) for his intro-
duction to the real estate business.
Like Donald, Fred Trump was a master
of media manipulation, leveraging
assets and political dealmaking with
the powerful Democratic machine
politicians of his day.
Massive Campaign Contributions
Donald Trump used his books and
the media to hype his projects and
puff his personal image as a visionary
and a consummate dealmaker. In
reality, Trump's deals went through
because he hired political fixers (such
as Roy Cohn and Stanley Friedman),
made massive campaign contributions
and dangled job offers to city nego-
tiators in order to gain government
approval of contracts on his terms.
The importance of analyzing Trump
and his deals is to understand the role
of government in the development
process. Trump's equity in a project
was usually created through govern-
ment rule changes. Trump's skill was
in influencing the political process to
increase the value of a site he was set
to purchase at a far lower price.
Democratic governments are noto-
riously bad negotiators. Layers of
approvals which are designed to
prevent corruption and profiteering,
while allowing for community input,
can often hinder honest development
while doing little to prevent the "fix-
ers" from pushing through their pet
projects. Elected officials know that
their reelection prospects are depen-
dent on the economy and on cam-
paign contributions. Therefore they
will always respond to the siren call
of developers like Trump who prom-
ise to create jobs and write checks
with many zeros. To some degree, the
public might be better served by looser
zoning restrictions that could not be
altered, appealed or varied than by
the current system, which is subject
to such abuse.
The Ultimate Fraud
Barrett analyzes Trump's entire
career deal by deal and lie by lie, from
the Grand Hyatt to Atlantic City to the
U.S. F. 1. Barrett finds a mind-boggling
number of inconsistencies between
Trump's public pronouncements and
Although Trump was an all-pro at
playing the media, he was in turn
used by Mayor Edward Koch and
Governor Mario Cuomo for their own
media games. Although the Koch
administration granted Trump many
favors, the egos of both men were too
large for them to work together as
allies. Trump tried to repair the
damage created by his criticism of the
mayor by hiring Allen Schwartz
(Koch's former law partner and former
New York City corporation counsel).
However, Koch preferred to use
Trump as a whipping boy of develop-
mental excess to cover his own excess
favoritism towards developers.
Cuomo, who feared being perceived
as too liberal, sought Trump's approval
in order to shore up his image in the
business community.
Barrett prematurel y closes the book
on Trump and dismisses the likeli-
hood of another developer following
in his footsteps. The American public
has an extremely short memory and
American bankers virtually no
memory at all. Although the 1990s
will be drastically different from the
1980s, who knows what the next
millennium will bring? If tie-dyed
clothes can make a comeback so can
Donald Trump. 0
Eric Weinstock is a lecturer in
economics at Brooklyn College.
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Call or write Sue Fox
NEW YORK, N.Y. 10025
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To the Editor:
This is a short letter of appreciation
for the article you did on Homeless
Organizations Working. ("Voices
From the Streets," December 1991.)
During a time when we needed a boost,
your publication gave us the exposure
we needed. Since the article appeared,
we have been able to form more viable
coalitions with other activist organi-
zations in the community.
Your piece also gave the member
organizations the exposure they
needed to continue their own
struggles, knowing that the work they
do is not falling on deaf ears.
Ruth Young
Homeless Organizations Working
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For information about five weekly workshops,
starting March 5, and an organizing conference
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call the Interfaith Assembly
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The events are being sponsored by the Interfaith Assembly,
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Coalition, the Learning Alliance, the New York Civil
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ASSISTANT DISTRICT MANAGER. West Side Community Board seeks
energetic person with outstanding organizational, administrative
and communication skills to trouble-shoot city service delivery;
work with board on land use, housing, human service etc. issues;
manage office. Spanish a +. Resume and writing sample ASAP to
Community Board #4, 330 West 42nd Street, NYC 10036. Mid $20s
and excellent city benefits.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR. Opportunity for self-starter to rebuild nonprofit
community organization. Will have part-time clerical assistant.
Liaison with hands-on board of directors and community. Coordi-
nate organization's activities including drug prevention for youth.
Write proposals for funding. Salary is $28,000 annually, New York
Foundation grant. SPEAR DIRECTOR. Develop, implement and evalu-
ate anti-drug afterschool program; youth aged 7-21 . Supervise staff
of 3 part-timers. Maintain follow-up client record. Liaison to DSAS,
SFO Board of Directors and community. Bilingual Spanish preferred.
Accreditation in substance abuse prevention preferred but training
available. Salary is $20,000 annually, DSAS state-funded contracted
program. Send resumes ASAP to South Fordham Organization,
2385 Valentine Avenue, Bronx, NY 10458.
ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT. Nonprofit organization seeks skilled
person to assist director with administrative tasks. Skills required:
computer knowledge (Lotus and/or dBase, WP); good written and
phone skills. Must be very organized with interest in housing and
community development. $21 ,000; Good benefits. UHAB, 40 Prince
Street, New York 10012.
NONPROFIT MANAGEMENT. Variety of positions available in nonprofit
management; organizing directors, political direction etc. Send
resume to ACORN, 845 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11226.
COMMUNITY ORGANIZER. Full-time position with large LDC in
Rockaway, Queens. Work with individuals and tenant associations
in private and public housing; some evening and weekend work;
coordination of special projects relating to housing including opera-
tion of Loan Fund, conferences and workshops, etc. BA plus two
years of organizing experience. $22-$24,000, plus benefits. Send
resume to RDRC, P.O. Box 1400, Far Rockaway, NY 11691.
BUSINESS SERVICES MANAGER. Industrial Development Corporation
seeks person to work with businesses on zoning, traffic/parking,
infrastructure and environmental issues. Position is responsible for
LDC's efforts to improve physical conditions in the East Williamsburg
Industrial Park, and coordinating annual membership drive. Good
writing/speaking skills, valid drivers lic and computer literacy a
must. BA with interest in business/economic development re-
quired. Salary: low 20s. Resume to EWVIDCO, 11-29 Catherine
St., Brooklyn, NY 11211.
COORDINATOR. Seeking a self starter who under the director will be
responsible for planning, developing and delivering resources to
retailers and manufacturers. Bilingual pref. Send resume to: LDC
Del Barrio Inc. 145 E. 116th Street, NYC 10029, Attn: Mr. Colon,
Executive Director.
COMMUNITY ORGAIIIZER. The Northwest Bronx Community and
Clergy Coalition seeks people to work with neighborhood residents
in the fight for safe streets, affordable housing and viable commu-
nities. Satisfactions will derive from developing leadership, winning
concrete change and working with diverse constituencies. Spanish
is helpful. EOE. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply.
Salary: $16,000 to $17,500, plus benefits. Resume: Executive
Director, NWBCCC, 103 East 196th Street, Bronx, N.Y. 10468.
Community Development Group
A resource for the
development community
Gary Hattern, Vice President
280 Park Avenue, 19 West New York, New York 10017
Tel: 212A54,3487 FAX 454,2380
At The East New York Savings Bank,
we put our money
where our neighborhoods are.
We are now accepting applications for our
Community Action Assistance Plan (CAAP) Grants Program.
We believe that the continued success
of The East New York Savings Bank is
tied directly to the quality of life in our
neighborhoods. That's why, for the fourth
year in a row, we're renewing our
ment to community organizations that are
striving to make our neighborhoods better
places in which to live and do business.
We're offering grants of $250 to $5,000
to eligible organizations which provide
essential neighborhood services, including
housing preservation and improvement,
youth, senior citizen,
substance abuse, neighborhood organizing,
arts and culture and commercial
East New York (Atlantic and Pennsylvania Avenues)
Park Slope (Flatbush at 8th Avenue)
Bay Ridge (5th Avenue & 78th Street)
Greenpoint (814 Manhattan Avenue)
Sutton Place (East 57th Street & 1st Avenue)
Lenox Hill (East 75th Street & 2nd Avenue)
Forty-Second Street (41 West 42nd Street}
Murray Hill (East 29th Street & 3rd Avenue)
Peter Cooper (East 20th Street and 1st Avenue)
Kips Bay (East 31st Street & 2nd Avenue)
Fifth Avenue (West 32nd Street & 5th Avenue)
revitalization activities.
In the past three years, 143
organizations throughout our service area
were recipients of CAAP grants.
The East New York Savings Bank's
CAAP Grants Program for 1992 is open
to tax
exempt organizations located in Brooklyn,
Manhattan, Queens and Nassau County.
To obtain an application or further
information, stop by anyone of our
branches or mail your request to the
address below. Applications must be
submitted by April 17, 1992 for
Park East (East 64th Street & 3rd Avenue)
86th Street (2360 Broadway)
106th Street (1925 3rd Avenue)
135th Street (498 Lenox Avenue)
Nassau County:
Great Neck (23-25 North Station Plaza)
Oceanside (12 Atlantic Avenue at Long Beach
Forest Hills (101-25 Queens Blvd. & 67th Drive)
Austin Street (70-34 Austin Street. at 70th Road)
THE EAST NEW YORK SAVINGS BANK Community Action Assistance Plan Grants Program
41 West 42nd Street New York, New York 10036 28th Floor