The Real Deal New York

In the Bronx, in limbo: Residents suffer through squalor while developer ties up foreclosure process

March 22, 2013 10:00AM

Workforce Housing Advisors is buying up a slew of distressed apartments in the Bronx with the intention to rehabilitate the properties, but tenants are being forced to wait until the foreclosure process is resolved for essential repairs, the New York Daily News reported. 

The company, which specializes in repositioning distressed properties as affordable housing units, has purchased several buildings in the area in recent years, including 916, 920, 924, 928 and 935 Kelly Street, in one of the borough’s most notorious enclaves. In total WHFA has bought 12 neglected buildings and holds the mortgages for two more.

Getting to the finish line with the units, however, was a challenge, due to the drawn-out foreclosure process, WFHA partner John Crotty told the Daily News. “We started this business to change conditions, to make it better,” Crotty said. “Telling people to wait a while, that’s a difficult thing to do.”

Indeed, in some cases, WHFA’s intervention may have further complicated the process. At 1380 University Avenue in Highbridge, where WHFA bought the mortgage in June 2012 for $17.5 million, it began foreclosure proceedings against the landlord, Martin Carlin. However, living conditions at the 144-unit building have gotten worse since then, according to the building’s tenant association president Barbara Williamson. “I believe they want to renovate and do wonderful things,” Williamson told the Daily News. “But because of the foreclosure process, I feel like the management they’ve chosen gets the cheapest labor, and the job is not being done properly.”

The situation at 1380 University Avenue is mirrored in many sites across the borough, Kerri White, of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, told the Daily News. At 539-541 East 147th Street in Mott Haven, where WFHA will soon begin another major renovation project, tenants had to suffer through over 18 months of collapsing ceilings, mold and fire damage until the foreclosure process was resolved.

“Workforce Housing is a responsible developer,” White said. “Buildings like East 147th might have been lost without them being willing to do risky and innovative things. We see them trying to do their best, but that can’t happen until they own the property and can put in more money.” [NYDN]  –Hiten Samtani