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Evacuated Inwood Tenants Can't Come Home for Years

By Carla Zanoni | February 22, 2011 6:21pm

By Carla Zanoni

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

INWOOD — Tenants evacuated from their Inwood apartment building on Friday will not likely return home anytime soon, local officials said Tuesday morning.

After an initial assessment of the decrepit property at 552-556 Academy St., which was evacuated after it was deemed unstable, city agencies and officials have determined it would take anywhere from 18 months to two years to fix the 75-unit structure. The Upper Manhattan officials also repeated their request that the city front approximately $20 million to fix the building.

"This building has been a danger to humans for a long time," State Sen. Adriano Espaillat said, in Spanish, during a press conference held outside the property he called a "clear and present danger."

According to Espaillat, one of the most frightening determinations made by engineers as they inspected the building over the weekend was the structural damage to emergency exits, which he said had "put families at risk for years."

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and Assemblyman Guillermo Linares joined Espaillat in calling for the placement of tenants in apartments near their Academy Street home, describing the residents as senior citizens who had lived in the area for decades and families who have children in nearby schools.

The group is currently trying to find a total of 35 apartments — 16 one-bedroom, 16 two-bedroom and three three-bedroom units — in Washington Heights and Inwood.

Since their evacuation on Friday, Feb. 18, families have been staying at a Red Cross station at the YMCA on 63rd Street and Central Park West or found temporary homes with friends and families.

"One way or another, these families will come back," Linares said.

The elected officials once again solicited the city to front approximately $20 million to fix the building while calling for the building to be yanked from its slumlord owner, Rachel Arfa, the principal at Ocelto Capital Management and Ocelot Properties Management, who had at least 1,000 violations listed on the property.

"The City should strip away this building from Arfa," Rodriguez said.

Negotiations with the landlord were underway in an attempt to have the deed turned over to local nonprofit advocacy group Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) so that it could take over management of the building, according to Eric Bederman, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Preservation.

Alfida Robles, 63, had lived in the Academy Street building with her family for 37 years and watched its deterioration accelerate at "lightning speed" over the past several years.

She said she was still stunned trying to understand why families were evacuated so suddenly last Friday afternoon.

"I know it was dangerous, but [why didn't] they give people more notice?" she said, while speaking to another tenant who worried about accessing her family's furniture and the belongings she'd amassed over the years.

"Don't worry," Robles told her friend, embracing her. "We will find a way and we're going to rebuild."