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Know Your Rights
Source: Staten Island Advance
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

City Council Wants to Monitor More Apartments, Crack Down on Worst Landlords

NEW YORK — The City Council wants to expand a program** designed to crack down on the city’s worst landlords — but it may not help to ease deplorable conditions for some tenants on the North Shore.

A bill introduced yesterday would double the number of apartments to be monitored and include conditions that trigger asthma, such as mold and rodent infestation, in the criteria the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) uses to place buildings in its Alternative Enforcement Program.

The program was part of the Safe Housing Act, passed by the City Council in 2007. Under that law, HPD must identify 200 buildings with the worst housing code violations and target them for aggressive inspection and comprehensive repairs. If building owners fail to make the necessary repairs and correct the underlying conditions, HPD steps in to fix the violations and charges owners for the cost of the work.

Because the criteria for that list are based on the ratio of violations to housing units, only 14 of the 200 buildings currently on the list have more than 20 housing units — and total just over 1,000 apartments and single-room occupancies (SROs). The new criteria would take into account a building’s total number of violations and create separate categories for buildings with more than 20 units and fewer than 20 units.

Proponents say that would increase the total number of housing units in the programs to about 3,000.

It is unclear whether the changes will help clean up housing problems on the Island, but the program has not had much impact on the borough thus far. Only two Island buildings have been placed in the Alternative Enforcement Program since it was started three years ago — 238 York Ave., which has three apartments, and 180 Van Pelt Ave., which has four apartments. There are no buildings currently in the program.

However, after just a cursory investigation, the Advance found several buildings on the North Shore with over 100 open violations each, and then interviewed tenants there who said they lived in squalor for years.

The reasons the problems persist are multifold: A dearth of affordable rentals coupled with a high demand and an influx of immigrants on the North Shore; few Island tenants’ advocates; homes that are illegally converted into SROs or apartments under the city’s nose. Those problems are not likely to get better, however, unless tenants and advocates press for HPD to take action, much as they do in other boroughs.

"Some of what HPD does will always be reactive. If you don’t call, we can’t do the violations, we can’t fix them," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said at the press conference yesterday.

The Council scheduled a hearing for the bill on Dec. 14, and is likely to vote on it by year’s end.

**Spearheaded by Make the Road New York (MRNY).