NEW YORK—The infamous Milbank buildings in the Bronx now have a new owner who will spend $7 million without any public assistance to clean up the dilapidated properties. When the 10 Milbank properties foreclosed back in October, they became the poster-child for distressed buildings in the Bronx.
The tenants lived in deplorable conditions: toxic mold, crumbling floors, 4,800 violations in all. They took the initiative and stood up for their rights, forming a coalition. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn spoke about a “broad and deep coalition committed to making housing livable,” which includes many city agencies as well as tenant groups, as she stood in front of a Milbank property on Heath Street Tuesday morning.
Quinn outlined a series of measures taken over several years to combat deplorable living conditions throughout the city, which have culminated in a solution for Milbank tenants.
In 2007, City Council passed the Safe Housing Act, which targeted the 200 worst residential buildings in the city for inspections and repairs. The Milbank properties were not on the list, showing that the act still left many of the city's tenants in dire straits.
The Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP), enacted the same year, allowed the city to hand control of a building over to a qualified third-party administrator in case of extreme neglect by landlords. Some of the Milbank properties were put in the AEP.
In January of this year, City Council and the mayor's office announced a plan called the Proactive Preservation Initiative. The idea is to actively identify and rescue distressed buildings before they reach an extreme state of disrepair.
The multifaceted plan involves working with banks that handle mortgages and foreclosures, conducting roof-to-cellar inspections, and stringently enforcing code or transferring ownership if necessary.
The Millbank properties were the first to successfully pass through this new initiative.
The mortgage holder for the properties, a security trust controlled by Wells Fargo and serviced by LNR Partners Inc., were going to sell the Milbank buildings to a bidder that would have been financially incapable of making the necessary repairs. The city called on LNR Partners Inc. to find a responsible owner and to make the most pressing repairs.
“If you are a bank who held a mortgage and the building is in foreclosure, wake up—you own the building now! You will be held accountable,” said Quinn.
Steven Finkelstein, who owns more than 30 other buildings in the Bronx, bought the buildings and expects to complete all major repairs over the next nine months. He has already taken care of 80 percent of the violations in one of the buildings, and replaced all the windows in another.
“I find these buildings to be of superior quality to many in the Bronx, and I feel that once I get them up to par, I'm going to be able to provide affordable housing,” said Finkelstein.
It wasn't a completely philanthropic venture. Finkelstein expects to turn a profit, which Quinn says is a hopeful sign for other distressed properties.
FIRE SAFETY REGULATION
Bloomberg raised another housing issue on Tuesday in light of a fire in the Bronx early Monday that killed a 12-year-old boy and his parents. The burned building had been illegally converted to accommodate too many units, leaving this particular family without access to a fire escape.
Quinn reported that the State Supreme Court rejects two-thirds of warrants to enter and inspect a building for fire code violations. City Council sent a letter to the Supreme Court on Tuesday requesting easier access to ensure the safety of tenants across the city.