ALLERTON — A group of Bronx tenants are celebrating the re-opening of their community room, after they say they were locked out of the space for the last five years during an ongoing dispute with the properties’ management over its use.
Residents at the Allerton Coops held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday for the newly re-accessed space, located in the basement of one of the complexes’ buildings on Bronx Park East near Allerton Avenue.
The tenants say they’d waged an unsuccessful campaign to use the space for programs and events for years until Mark Gjonaj, a local real estate agent who is vying for an Assembly seat in the neighborhood’s 80th Assembly District this month, intervened on their behalf.
“In order for us to have programs, we need to have space,” said Janice Walcott, the Tenants Association president for the complex, which houses over 700 apartment units and spans the length of three blocks. She and other tenants had taken to holding meetings outside, or in a nearby park, because they had nowhere else to gather.
“I want [people] to be able to come in here and have a birthday party, have a wedding reception, have a wake,” she said, adding that they also hope to use the room to host activities for seniors and an afterschool program for the buildings’ many children and teens.
“Three of our teenagers have gotten killed — three in less than six months,” Walcott said, referring to a spat of shootings that took place in the neighborhood last summer. “It’s time for something positive. Kids are going to hang out, but they have to have some place to go.”
The Tenants Association tried to use the basement over the years for tenant meetings, parties and afterschool programs, Walcott said, but would be intermittently shut out by different owners. They’ve been completely locked out for the last five years after the management company Bronx Park East LLC took over, she said, with little explanation for the move. The property manager could not be reached for comment Wednesday or Thursday.
Gjonaj, who is one of three candidates running for the 80th Assembly District seat held by Bronx incumbent Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera, said he got involved after he attended a Tenants Association meeting and saw it was being held on the steps of the property because the tenants lacked a formal meeting room.
“I met with management, and after speaking to them on the telephone a few times…they agreed to meet with me,” Gjonaj said. “After about four hours of negotiating and talking about the importance, and the positive attribute that this would be toward the community, they agreed.”
The re-opening party on Wednesday was half-celebration, half-campaign event, as Gjonaj shook hands with residents and his campaign staff—wearing “Mark Gjonaj for Assembly,” T-shirts—handed out campaign leaflets to the adults and school supplies for the children.
Gjonaj is hoping to unseat Rivera, who was first elected to the Assembly in 2004, in the Sept. 13 primary election. He faces off against two other hopefuls—community activist Irene Estrada-Rukaj, and former reporter turned campaign worker Adam Bermudez.
Whether or not they’ll turn up to the polls, tenants on Wednesday said they're grateful for the help.
“It means a great deal,” said 70-year-old tenant Laverne Underdue. “We can help some of these teenagers who are in the hall just running rabid.”
Other Tenants Association members said they hope to start an afterschool and tutoring program in the space, and to hold events for seniors there, like dance lessons, games and healthy breakfasts.
“We want this to be a positive place to be,” Walcott said.