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Williamsburg Housing Nonprofit Los Sures' Buildings Plagued With Issues

By Serena Dai | June 23, 2015 7:13pm
  Los Sures properties have dozens of open violations and complaints for heat and plumbing issues.
Buildings Managed by Williamsburg Nonprofit Los Sures Plagued with Issues
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SOUTH WILLIAMSBURG — Several buildings managed by Los Sures, a prominent South Williamsburg low-income housing nonprofit, are plagued with leaks, mildew and cracked walls and ceilings, according to tenants and city records.

The nonprofit's parent company, Southside United HDFC, manages nearly 30 low-income buildings with 600 units, and has rehabbed thousands of other units in North Brooklyn, according to Southside's 2014 annual report. But many tenants told DNAinfo New York they've been living in subpar conditions that management takes months or years to fix.

Some of Los Sures' properties have racked up dozens of open violations with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, with complaints of leaking, lack of hot water and rodents.

Others have received more than 100 311 complaints over the past few years, mostly due to electricity, heating or hot water problems, sewer backups and plumbing issues, records show.

A property at 101 South Third St., with six floors and 35 units, has 69 open violations with HPD dating back to 2011. They range from issues with mice and roaches to broken or defective plaster and leaky plumbing.

"It’s like I’m living like a dog, like you don’t care," said Laurice Bethea, 52, who's lived with a hole in the ceiling above her toilet for more than a year after leaks started. "I’m not human. That’s not the way to treat nobody."

In May 2014, a super cut a hole in the bathroom ceiling in hopes of fixing the leak, said Bethea. But the leaks never stopped, and she taped plastic over the hole and laid a towel above the toilet to collect water, she said.

The smell of mildew and mold has exacerbated Bethea's lung problems, according to a note from her doctor. Bethea stopped paying rent last August and is in court hoping to get the ceiling patched, she said.

Jose Luna, 64, was set to move in seven months ago but initially refused after seeing the cabinets in the kitchen were "black and moldy," Luna said in Spanish through a translator.

Los Sures replaced the cabinets, but once he moved in, "sh*t and piss water" started dripping on his head when used the bathroom, Luna said. There's now plastic taped over a hole above his toilet.

"They don’t care about how we live," Luna said. "All they want to do is rent it."

Los Sures Communications Director Thomas Servello said the company is aware of the building's problems, but denied there were any issues in newly-rented apartments.

The property was rehabbed in 2010, but HPD and engineers did not determine that the roof or plumbing would need repairs, he said. Later on, Los Sures realized that the property had a "systemic plumbing issue," but didn't have the money to fix it.

The nonprofit has filed for approval from HPD to access money to make larger changes to the property, Servello said. Pending agency approval, an optimistic timeline for the beginning of construction is some three weeks from now, he said.

Servello did not clarify how much money Los Sures requested.

Still, when Los Sures does fix a unit, it sometimes takes them weeks, months or years — and often the problem returns shortly after it's supposedly fixed, tenants of different properties said.

At 41 Whipple St. — a 52-unit Los Sures property with 24 open HPD violations and more than 60 complaints with 311 since the beginning of 2014 — it took a decade for one unit to get a rotten kitchen sink replaced, a tenant said.

Anggie Malo, 18, said her family noticed leaks in the kitchen when they moved in about 10 years ago. Each time they asked for changes, problems would be fixed for about a week before breaking again, she said.

The sink and cabinets were finally replaced — but not until two weeks ago, she said. Additional issues that haven't been fixed include lights not working due to faulty wiring, dirty common areas and a leaky bathroom.

At 353 South Third St., a 36-unit building that has 23 open HPD violations, tenants said mildew, faulty floors and leaky pipes rarely get fixed properly.

Some tenants said they try to fix issues themselves, anticipating that Los Sures will be slow to act or that unqualified workers will do repairs.

"They have to tend to problems when the tenants call," said resident Yesenia Simet, 34, who's lived in Los Sures buildings for years. "Don't wait until the ceiling caves."

Tenants at other properties have also turned to the city to resolve problems in their apartments:

► More than 40 complaints about heat, plumbing, electricity and unsanitary conditions were filed at a 13-unit property at 238 Metropolitan Ave. in the last couple years, according to 311 records.

► At 52-unit building 366 Hewes St., more than 100 complaints were filed since the beginning of 2013, mostly for electricity, plumbing, construction and elevator issues. The DOB also slapped the building with $7,500 in fines for elevator violations, according to city records.

► And nearly 200 complaints have been filed through 311 since 2013 for 106 Gerry St., a Los Sures property with 46 units. Nearly all of them bemoaned unsanitary conditions and problems with electricity, plumbing and heating.

Servello said part of the issue is that larger scale problems need more complex and expensive repairs, and Los Sures requires HPD approval to access a set of "reserve funds" to make the improvements. Often, even those funds are inadequate, Servello said.

At least three properties, including 41 Whipple St., 101 South Third St., and 353 South Third St., are slated for bigger rehab projects in 2016 and 2017, Servello said.

Estimates for the initial rehab for 101 South Third St. start at $600,000, money that's still unavailable, Servello said. Cost estimates for other rehabs have not yet been determined.

Otherwise, "most repairs" that are specific to different apartments are "completed in a timely manner," Servello said in an email.

"Obviously, there are going to be some people who are not happy," he said in a phone interview. "But I think you'll find that there are many people who are very happy."

Longtime Los Sures tenant Cesar Aristi said that he's had a positive experiences with the nonprofit, which he believes fights hard to keep the neighborhood affordable.

"Los Sures is the best," Aristi aid. "No way I could pay [other rents here]. Everywhere is $3,000, $4,000."

Other residents also expressed satisfaction with the timeliness of repairs, and several properties did not rack up complaints or violations as the aforementioned buildings did.

Beyond property management, parent nonprofit Southside United provides social services like tax prep, a food bank and senior citizen needs. It's a frequent community organizer for affordable housing and other political events.

Still, Los Sures should be more on top of necessary repairs, said Katie Rodriguez, 23.

She used to live in 101 South Third St., and her grandmother still lives there and has for decades, she said. Rodriguez has seen problems with sweating toilets and leaking bathrooms persist for years, with management rarely fixing problems in a timely fashion.

"Be involved, at the end of the day," Rodriguez said of the nonprofit. "Nobody should live like this."

— Additional reporting by Gustavo Solis