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Know Your Rights
Source: Crain's New York Business
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

City urged to expand decrepit-building list

Housing advocates are quite happy with a city program that forces landlords of dilapidated residential buildings to pay for repairs, but they are protesting nonetheless, claiming that it’s too small.

Building owners, for their part, say the program is already effective at the current level of enforcement, and the city’s housing agency says advocates are off-base.

The immigrant-rights nonprofit Make the Road plans to march Wednesday in Bushwick, Brooklyn, to urge the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to expand its five-year-old Alternative Enforcement Program to better preserve the city’s housing stock and protect tenants.

“It is a good idea for the city to make sure that landlords are making necessary repairs in the buildings with the worst conditions in New York City,” said Gladys Puglla, a tenant in Bushwick and a member of Make the Road. “The Alternative Enforcement Program should be expanded to benefit more tenants.”

Under AEP, the city selects 200 of the most poorly maintained residential buildings a year and notifies their landlords that wide-scale repairs are needed. If a landlord then fails to make them, HPD may have the work done and recoup the cost from him.

Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the program, AEP has led to the correction of more than 67,000 hazardous violations in 800 neglected buildings, Make the Road says in a report it plans to release tomorrow. But housing advocates say it’s not enough, especially in neighborhoods like Bushwick where blighted buildings go unfixed despite rapid gentrification around them.

HPD says the group’s findings are flawed.

“We are sincerely troubled by the results of the report, and feel strongly that MRNY did not attempt to accurately represent the parameters or successes of AEP,” a HPD spokesman said. “We met with MRNY and informed them about our serious concerns regarding their negligible sample size and their questionable methodologies. Unfortunately we did not hear back from them until after the report was finalized.”

The program costs $2.4 million a year and requires 37 city workers; any expansion would obviously increase the annual budget.

Make the Road, along with Councilwoman Letitia James and several other members of the City Council, are calling on HPD to increase by 40% the number of buildings targeted under the program and to increase protections for displaced tenants.

But a group representing building owners says the city is already scrambling each year to find 200 buildings in bad enough shape to qualify for the program, a sign of its effectiveness. Also, it says records of building code violations kept by the city are not quickly updated, leading many rehabilitated buildings to incorrectly fall under the program’s purview.

“A lot of buildings are in much better shape than HPD records show,” said Frank Ricci, director of government affairs for the Rent Stabilization Association. “The vast majority of owners in the city are responsible and they do correct issues as soon as they arise.”

Make the Road is allied with the Working Families Party and Democratic mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio, who has highlighted the problem of deteriorating buildings through his “worst landlords” list. Mr. Ricci said that Wednesday’s march is just a bid for relevance by groups like Make the Road.

“I think they’re trying to create work for themselves so they can stay in business,” Mr. Ricci said.

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