Proposed development will hurt Longwood, say tenants

Simpson Street Residents held a rally on Jan. 8 to protest their landlord’s plan to build a new complex that they say would worsen traffic and parking problems while squeezing yet more people into an already congested area.

By Kara Chin. Tenants fear developers will demolish this playground on Simpson Street to build housing.
By Kara Chin. Tenants fear developers will demolish this playground on Simpson Street to build housing.

Residents argue traffic, overcrowding are already bad enough

Tenants of a Longwood building complex say a new development being proposed by their landlord would lead to the destruction of the only nearby playground and green space their children have access to and would make the neighborhood’s overcrowding and traffic problems worse.

Residents of the four apartment buildings on Simpson between 163rd Street and Westchester Ave. say no one from Property Resources Corp. notified them that the project was underway. One resident found out from workers he saw drilling in the adjacent parking lot in early January.

“Instead of having a meeting or contacting the tenants, they basically do whatever they want to do. They never notified anyone,” said the 39 year old tenant, one of about a dozen who attended a rally at the proposed building site on Jan. 8 to try to stop the project. The tenants declined to provide their full names, fearing the landlord may retaliate by not providing maintenance or apartment upgrades if they complain openly.

“We weren’t treated with dignity and respect,” said another resident. “This must have been happening already for a while.”

A 31 year old tenant who identified herself as Ms. Rodriguez, said she received a letter from PRC Management during the first week in January, ordering residents to move their cars from the parking lot by Jan. 9 so that repair work could be done, but saying nothing of the new development. A second letter from the landlord was posted in the buildings’  hallways on Jan. 8, urging residents to remove their cars by Jan. 31.

“So they play it off as if they are fixing it,” Rodriguez said of the parking lot. “Maybe they are fixing it for now until they decide, but we saw them drilling. What’s the purpose of it?”

Rodriguez and other tenants say that quality of life in the area will be diminished if the new project is completed.

“That building is going to be huge,” she said. In all, the proposal calls for three new buildings, although the number of apartments has not yet been determined. “If they make it what I think it is, it’s going to be at least ten floors. Whoever is living in the back will have no sunlight at all.”

The parking lot consists of 43 parking spots, including three spaces for the handicapped. Residents pay $75 a month for a spot, compared with nearly triple that in nearby parking lots.

“This is a dead end and this is overcrowding,” said a 61 year old resident. “I have a 79 year old husband. He’s in a wheelchair. I can’t drop him off and he can’t wheel himself.”

The president of PRC, Frank Linde, said in a phone interview with The Hunts Point Express that the parking issue is temporary and his company is not ignoring tenants’ concerns.

“We’re prepared to work with them to find them temporary parking,” Linde said, adding that plans to build on the playground and parking lot are provisional and open to changes. He insisted that PRC is not trying to fool tenants and that the plan is consistent with the mayoral administration’s push to build 80,000 new units of affordable housing within the next decade.

“It would be an affordable housing development under the NYC programs under the de Blasio administration,” Linde said.

Harvey Epstein, associate director of the Urban Justice Center, a non-profit that provides free legal services to low-income tenants, said clashes between developers and tenants are becoming increasingly common in the wake of a building frenzy prompted by the mayor’s plan.

“There has to be a balance between affordable housing and having open space for residents who live in the city,” Epstein said. “Not everyone has the ability to live near Central Park.”

When Rodriguez went door-to-door to circulate a petition to demand the playground be spared, she found that few residents were aware of the pending development. When they were told, however, she says they were troubled by the news, citing excessive traffic and limited green space.

Rodriguez pointed out that there is nowhere else nearby where her three children can go outside to play.

“This is the only playground we have for our kids,” she said. “There is nothing in the proposal to replace it or anything worth quality of life.”

Community Board 2’s housing committee chair, Joyce Campbell-Culler, has lived in the development for 34 years. She said that neither the landlord nor the tenants have given the playground the kind of care it requires, adding that condoms and needles are often strewn about.

“It’s been an eyesore for years,” Campbell-Culler said. “Tenants should band together to improve conditions in the park” more frequently, in order to discourage developers looking to seize underused space to build on, she said.