On the first day of spring New Yorkers flocked to parks to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. But it wasn’t just city residents out in the sunshine. New York dogs were out in force in Tompkins Square Park Tuesday and their owners say the weather is cheering up their pups.
Janice was a 20-year-old college student in Troy, N.Y. when she accepted a ride home from who she thought was a harmless stranger six years ago. But, he drove her into the woods and raped her. She managed to get out of his car, but then he chased her, caught her, and then choked her and raped her again, before leaving her in the woods.
When criminal proceedings against her rapist began, the defense attorney threatened to portray her as a “slut” to the jury, and promised her that an ex-boyfriend would testify that she was a slut unless she dropped the rape charge. Janice, who did not want to give her last name, dropped the rape charge to avoid being stigmatized, and her assailant went to jail for the lesser crime of assault and battery.
Yesterday she carried a big sign that read, “I’m a rape survivor, not a fashion victim,” and marched with hundreds of New Yorkers through Union Square and the East Village, in a grassroots campaign called SlutWalk, challenging what they called rape culture: victim blaming and slut shaming.
Some female participants wore low-cut blouses, some only wore bras to cover their chests, and a few fully bared their bosoms.
“Rape culture is a global culture that doesn’t take rape seriously and just accepts it as a fact of life,” said Joanna Chiu, 23, one of the event organizers and a graduate student at Columbia Journalism School.
Chiu said statistics kept by the NYPD show sexual assaults have already increased by 24 percent in New York City since last year. And many more rape cases go unreported because of the victims being blamed for the attack, marchers believe.
According to information pamphlets handed out by SlutWalk event organizers, victim-blaming points to the social stigma attached to rape victims, who often are judged by society as the cause of sexual violence, accused of “asking for it” by the attire they wear or the way they walk. Slut shaming refers to derogatory use of the word “slut” in discrimination against women who wear attire or use body language that expresses their sexuality.
Suzie Expozito, an event organizer and human rights activist in New York, told supporters that the SlutWalk movement began in Toronto, Canada, in reaction to what a police representative told law students at York University. The policeman said women should “avoid dressing like sluts” if they don’t want to be victimized.
Supporters of SlutWalk included both women and men who marched from Union Square south to Broadway chanting, “NYPD, target rapists and not me.”
As supporters marched down the sidewalks on Second Ave., their chants of “Hey hey! Ho ho! This rape culture has got to go,” attracted crowds from nearby streets in the East Village.
According to event organizers, one of the goals of this year’s SlutWalk is to get the attention of officers from the East Village’s Ninth Precinct, who are responsible for protecting the public. Kenneth Moreno, a former officer with the Ninth Precinct, was charged with rape last December, after he escorted an intoxicated woman home. Moreno was charged with rape but acquitted this May, after his attorneys cast doubt on the victim’s credibility.
Public housing developments in the East Village are riddled with problems. There are leaky ceilings, walls and pipes; broken windows; fallen doors and cabinets; chipped and peeling paint; cracked or missing tiles, moldings and doorways; holes in walls and ceilings; inoperative vents; broken doorknobs and apartment doors; faulty appliances; and prevalent mold growth on bathroom ceilings and walls, a three-month investigation uncovered.
And, unfortunately, the list goes on.
A thorough investigation into New York City Housing Authority developments within the East Village brought a group of reporters into more than two dozen apartments. They visited every East Village public housing development — Lillian Wald Houses; Jacob Riis Houses; Pedro Albizu Campos Plaza I and II; Lower East Side II and III; Judge Max Meltzer Tower; Mariana Bracetti Plaza; and First Houses — and spoke with about 50 residents.
In addition to visiting dozens of apartments, reporters combed through hundreds of Department of Building and Environmental Control Board records; examined dozens of court cases; and consulted legal aid, community leaders, advocacy groups and elected officials.
Reporters captured hours of video and audio interviews with residents, and took hundreds of photos documenting substandard conditions.
Betty Buck, 67, a 43-year resident of Wald Houses, was at home sleeping on Aug. 30 when her kitchen cabinets came crashing down. NYCHA workers came to inspect the damage, but all they did was move the cabinet unit into her hallway — blocking the already-narrow space. She was given a repair appointment of February 2011 — almost 6 months after the damage occurred.
But that’s not the only issue Buck faces. She also has holes in her walls and ceiling, and peeling paint, from water damage; mold in her bathroom; and a roach infestation, despite an otherwise clean and well-kempt apartment.
Nilda Gomez, a tenant in Riis Houses, also faces many disrepair issues. The worst offense happened during the summer, when NYCHA workers came to repair her heating system. They disconnected her steam pipes and left them that way for months, jutting diagonally across her bedroom.
In the process of fixing a broken pipe in Gomez’s bathroom, workers instead wrapped a blanket secured with tape around the busted pipe. Other pipes throughout her apartment have been patched with duct tape.
Also in Gomez’s apartment are holes in the ceiling and walls; mold in the bathroom; broken tiles and moldings; broken windows and closet doors; and a lock on her apartment door that only opens from the inside.
After years of assigning housing assistant receptionists at individual properties to deal with tenants’ requests for repairs, NYCHA in 2005 began to introduce the Centralized Call Center, a hotline tenants can call to schedule routine repairs during regular business hours or to report emergencies 24 hours a day.
According to General Manager of Operation Michael Kelly, “NYCHA proposed the creation of a centralized call center, aimed at improving service delivery to residents, standardizing data entry for (work tickets) and scheduling appointments.” Kelly spoke at an Oct. 26 public hearing on housing.
But, from residents’ points of view, the call center has been a huge failure.
At the start of this investigation, reporters requested a series of documents from NYCHA under the Freedom of Information law. The authority responded saying it had “possibly 140,000 documents” of call center data in the past three years for East Village developments alone. However, NYCHA said it would charge for staff time to gather the documents in addition to 25 cents per page. NYCHA failed to provide a detailed index of the documents — as required under the FOI law — and has yet to produce any of the documents requested, despite months of negotiations with reporters.
Because no documents have been made available, the average time residents wait for repairs is unclear. But, according to residents, the average wait time is at least one year — and often as long as two or three years.
“NYCHA understands and respects our residents’ frustration over the current backlog of repair and maintenance work. No one wants to resolve this problem more than NYCHA,” Kelly said at the Oct. 26 public hearing.
No one denies the fact that the New York City Housing Authority is strapped for cash. The city agency has a growing deficit that it worsened by its lack of federal funding and increasing demand for repairs.
“In 2005, NYCHA’s comprehensive physical needs assessment identified a 5-year $7.5 billion need to fully address the repair and maintenance across the authority,” Kelly said at the hearing. “Currently NYCHA only has $1.5 billion to address such repairs.”
Victor Bach, senior housing policy analyst for the Community Service Society, has spent a great deal of time looking into NYCHA’s budget and meeting with officials to come up with solutions.
“When you have a $7 billion backlog in capital need that can’t or won’t be addressed by Washington, what ultimately happens is that your deterioration accelerates and your repair needs begin to escalate,” Bach said. “The needs are growing at the same time the centralized call center is experiencing problems responding. It’s a combination.”
Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who chairs the New York State Assembly’s committee on housing, led the public hearing on Oct. 26. Lopez acknowledged the funding problem but insisted it wasn’t the only trouble the authority has.
“We realize it’s a funding problem, but as a few people have mentioned, it’s also an operational problem,” Lopez said.
While NYCHA admits the backlog of repairs is an issue, the agency has yet to provide data that shows the number of unfulfilled work orders.
But, according to figures reported by The New York Times on Oct. 24, NYCHA has a total backlog of 106,000 work orders — 9,000 of which are scheduled for 2012 and an additional 300 scheduled for 2013.
Toni Footman, an 18-year resident of Lillian Wald Houses, grew so tired of waiting for repairs to be made, she took NYCHA to court on Sept. 14.
The judge ruled that NYCHA had to fulfill Footman’s maintenance request — fix leaks, exterminate for roaches, plaster and paint walls damaged by leaks — within 30 days.
More than two months after the court ruling, NYCHA has yet to make any repairs in Footman’s apartment.
“They told me by 2013 they can do the work,” she said with a sigh. “They’re still saying they don’t have the right supplies; they don’t have contractors.”
Tenants from all East Village developments tell similar stories: They’ve been waiting years upon years for NYCHA to fix damages in their apartments. This can take a toll on residents, especially on the elderly and disabled.
Residents from Meltzer Tower, an all-senior development in the East Village, worry about their health in the winter months. They say NYCHA turns the heat off in their building between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., a complaint echoed by tenants in several other East Village developments.
“Some of the residents here are incredibly ill,” said Sara Augustin, 65. “We’re older, you know? The cold goes straight to our bones.”
Augustin, who has rallied her neighbors and garnered 30 signatures for a petition demanding the heat be left on at night, recorded whom she claims to be a NYCHA official explaining their heat policy.
In the recording, the man tells Augustin that NYCHA will only turn the heat on at night if it is below 20 degrees outside — which is 20 degrees colder than what’s required by the New York City Housing Maintenance Code. The law requires building owners to provide heat between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. if the temperature outside is below 40 degrees — and if it’s below 55 degrees between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
In an e-mail response from NYCHA’s press office, NYCHA maintained it does follow the Housing Maintenance Code.
However, according to the Department of Housing Preservation & Development, who enforces the City Housing Maintenance Code, NYCHA is not held to these same standards.
“HPD does not have jurisdiction or the responsibility of enforcing the Housing Maintenance Code in NYCHA properties,” HPD spokesman Eric Bederman wrote in an e-mail.
Another issue that negatively affects elderly and disabled tenants is the frequent elevator breakdowns in NYCHA buildings.
NYCHA owns more than 60 buildings in the East Village, which are divided into eight developments. According to the Department of Buildings, NYCHA has accrued 741 building violations, some which date back as far as 1972; 275 of these are listed as “open” or “active,” meaning the DOB has no record of these violations being addressed.
More than 152 of them are Environmental Control Board violations — the most serious kind. A total of 20 of these serious infractions remain “open.”
The majority of the violations issued to NYCHA are because of poor exterior wall conditions, and shoddy elevator and boiler maintenance. Most are not considered hazardous to residents, according to the DOB, but they are considered major violations.
As for elevators, specifically, the DOB says NYCHA developments in the East Village alone have been hit with more than 60 building violations for failing to maintain elevators.
According to documents from the DOB, NYCHA has taken anywhere from two months to seven years to address elevator problems. Tenants say they are often forced to walk up and down flights of stairs because their building’s elevator is out of service — and disabled and wheelchair-bound residents say they’ve been trapped for days on end waiting for elevator repairs.
Of these 60 elevator-related infractions, the DOB says, 12 are still “open,” meaning the DOB has not received a certificate indicating the problems have been fixed.
In addition to quality-of-life problems tenants face, many are also up against health concerns they believe are linked to dilemmas involving disrepair. Many residents — young and old alike — worry poor housing conditions have caused or worsened respiratory problems such as asthma.
Frequent asthma attacks have been linked to the presence of moisture, mildew and cockroach allergens in homes, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Urban Health. The presence of allergens that cause asthma may be more common in housing that is in old or in a state of disrepair, the study said. Common symptoms of deteriorating housing are “water leaks, holes that pests can pass through, poor ventilation and peeling paint.”
Residents from every East Village development cited all of these as problems NYCHA failed to repair. Mold growth from water leaks was the most apparent — and severe — in all apartments where residents suffered from asthma.
Although NYCHA has failed to provide specific documents on health concerns related to poor housing conditions — such as mold, asbestos, gas leaks and paint — the authority said it had between 30,000 and 35,000 such documents for East Village developments alone.
Toni Footman and her children, for instance, have experienced breathing problems, which she believes are exacerbated by the presence of mold, cockroaches and extensive water damage throughout her apartment.
“Lately my chest been really bothering me,” she said. “I’m really a healthy person. I’m a vegan; I work out. And it’s only when I’m inside of my home that I feel like I can’t breathe.”
Her children’s doctor has diagnosed one of her two sons with asthma; the other, they believe, is allergic to cockroach allergens.
“(My) little one is nine, and he’s been having more breakouts because the mold is in the bathroom,” she said. “He’s inhaling that. He’s been scratching; his fingers all broke out.”
What frustrates Footman even more about this situation is NYCHA’s lack of response, despite the September ruling in housing court.
Footman has been actively searching for another place to live, which is no small task, considering she only pays $245 in rent every month.
“I’ve been filling out applications now to try to move,” she said. “If I do happen to find something, I can move out of here because it’s disgusting.”
With reporting from Alexandra DiPalma, Sarah Tung, Simon McCormack, Shamira Muhammad, Zanub Saeed and Reinhard Cate
David Ortega, 27, lives on the 4th floor of the Wald housing projects on Avenue D. He is confined to a wheelchair. Last year, when his building’s elevator was out of service for a week, Mr. Ortega said he could not leave his home.
“I was stuck inside my apartment,” Mr. Ortega said. “I missed doctors’ appointments. I was just trapped.”
A three-month LEV investigation – including a search of hundreds of city buildings department and environmental violations – shows Mr. Ortega is not alone in his experience with malfunctioning elevators in East Village public housing projects.
Shoddy maintenance remains an ongoing issue at housing projects in the East Village, records show. Problems cited in the violations include malfunctioning doors, dirty or water damaged elevator pits, and non-working emergency stop switches.
The elevator malfunctions often hit the project’s most vulnerable residents – specifically the elderly and infirm – the hardest, limiting their ability to shop, keep medical appointments or socialize with others. And elderly residents complain they do not receive other basic services – like sufficient heat at night – that impact them more than other tenants.
“Some of the residents here are incredibly ill,” says Sarah Augustin, a resident of the all-senior –citizen housing development known as Meltzer. “We’re older, you know? The cold goes straight to our bones.”
The East Village projects have been hit with more than 60 building violations over at least the last three decades for failure to maintain elevators.
Twelve of the elevator violations at East Village projects are open, meaning the Department of Buildings (DOB) has not received a certificate indicating the problems that prompted the violations have been fixed. One of these open violations is an Environmental Control Board violation, the most serious type of infraction. These types of violations are issued when problems are found that have direct, immediate impacts on residents.
More than 20 elevator violations were issued against the Housing Authority for not submitting annual elevator inspection reports. The fine for not filing these reports is $1,030.
The Housing Authority takes anywhere from two months to seven years to address elevator problems in the eight housing projects it owns in the neighborhood, records show.
“If the elevator breaks and you’re a senior citizen, you have to walk up 18, 20 stories and come down 20 stories. That is a serious risk of harm,” said Assemblyman Vito Lopez at a recent public hearing in October on Housing Authority repair issues.
Brian Clarke, deputy director of technical services at NYCHA, said at the hearing that his department takes elevator issues very seriously. “Elevators are essential services and they are a priority,” Mr. Clarke said. “We try to respond to elevator emergencies as quickly as possible.”
Mr. Clarke said NYCHA makes sure buildings with only one elevator car are fixed within about eight hours, on average. In some buildings, where there are multiple elevator cars, repairs could take longer. “With weekends, when we have a reduced staff, there could be situations where we could leave an elevator out for a few days,” Mr. Clarke said. “The building would have service, but reduced service.”
When asked to provide documentation verifying Mr. Clarke’s assertion, NYCHA Communications Officer Sheila Stainback suggested via email that the LEV file a Freedom of Information Law request to obtain the documentation. A request was filed, but no response was provided by deadline.
When asked to explain why the elevator in Mr. Ortega’s building was left unfixed for a week, Ms. Stainback said, “We will need more specific info and the person’s consent to share our findings about his personal situation.”
Yvette Quinones lives in the Riis projects, also on Avenue D. Like Mr. Ortega, Ms. Quinones uses a wheelchair to get around and, within the last year, she said her elevator has broken twice.
“The fire department had to carry me down seven flights of stairs,” Ms. Quinones said. “How can they do this to me? I’m in a wheelchair.”
Ms. Quinones said NYCHA took two days to fix the elevator.
On February 21, 2007, the buildings department issued a violation at 11-15 FDR Drive for failing to maintain the elevator at the Jacob Riis project. One of the doors wasn’t working and DOB demanded the elevator be put out of service until repairs could be made. It took the Housing Authority two months to issue a certificate to the buildings department, confirming it had resolved the elevator issue.
Marquis Jenkins, a public housing community organizer at Good Old Lower East Side, (GOLES), a housing advocacy organization, said elevator breakdowns are a common concern amongst many of the NYCHA building tenants. He does credit NYCHA for generally being diligent about quickly fixing elevators in buildings with only one car. Mr. Jenkins said the eight-hour average repair time mentioned by Clarke seems accurate.
“This has been a huge problem,” Mr. Jenkins said. “There are elevators being shut down on a constant basis. More often then not, we ask people how often do the elevators break, and a number of them say weekly.”
Elevator malfunctions are only one issue that plague elderly and infirm residents of the East Village housing projects. Seniors also complain that there are few activities for them and that general repair issues hamper their quality of life. . “I’m so embarrassed, really, I’m embarrassed,” said Virginia Proto, a Meltzer Tower resident for 24 years. “I can’t bring my friends around here!” she said, shaking her head. “They ask me, hey Virginia why don’t you invite us over? But I can’t, I’m just really embarrassed.”
Meltzer was originally designed as a project especially for seniors. But it hasn’t worked out that way, residents say. “Just ask them,” Proto says, pointing to the group of elderly residents chatting in Meltzer’s lobby. “You’ll see, they just sit here, sit on the radiator. All day. That senior center? These flyers? There’s nothing in there! There’s nothing to do, just sit here.” She blames this on the tenant patrol and tenant president. “She’s supposed to have things going, but they claim they don’t have the funds.”
According to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) website, more than 35% of NYCHA residents are over the age of 62. One of their most common complaints is about the heat – or lack thereof.
The New York City Housing Maintenance Code requires that landlords turn the heat in buildings on between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am if the temperature outside reaches below 40 degrees. Many elderly residents complain the Housing Authority routinely violates that requirement and that they freeze as a result.
The Housing Authority maintained in an email that it meets heating requirements.
“…like other landlords in the City of New York, (the Authority is required) to provide heat during heating season—October 1 through May 31 under the following conditions: Between 6:00 AM and 10:00 PM, the indoor heat must be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit whenever the outdoor temperature is less than 55 degrees; and, between 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM, the indoor heat must be at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit whenever the outdoor temperature is less than 40 degrees.”
But residents say no one responds when they complain about lack of heat. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development is the agency that enforces heating laws in the city. However, HPD spokesman Eric Bederman said in an email that his agency “does not have jurisdiction or the responsibility of enforcing the housing maintenance code in NYCHA properties.”
This is of little comfort to tenants who feel they don’t get enough heat. “Some of the tenants at the back of the building have an ongoing problem, getting sufficient heat. It needs to be checked out,” said Thelma Yearwood, the tenant association president for Meltzer.
Another issue is the alleged lack of help from the resident ‘Senior Advisors’, who are hired by the Authority to help senior citizens with independent living issues, and to provide aid and companionship. Two are working at Meltzer. They declined comment. “They aren’t really helping seniors. And it’s had an effect on the seniors. They don’t know where to turn,” said Yearwood.
Until recently, no one had really heard of Victoria Hunter McKenzie. But she—and her now infamous MetroCard oil paintings—just got a huge media boost.
“Initially, I had left the magnetic strip visible and the little strip of color that says ‘Please insert this way,’” said McKenzie of the East Village. “Nothing else was visible. But I had included a photograph of what it looked like before I painted it. “
As misappropriated use of MetroCards and other transit materials has become increasingly common, MTA officials have had more run-ins with artists like McKenzie.
Peter Drake, Dean of the New York Academy of the Arts, or the NYAA, said the first artist he knew to paint on MetroCards was NYAA student Imogen Slater.
Slater, 33, came to New York from England in 2009 to earn her graduate degree in painting from the NYAA.
“I was given an assignment to paint a series of small paintings and I wanted to do something different. In my family we have a tradition of not using things for the purpose for which they were designed,” Slater said. “I collected some [cards] from subway floors and staircases on my way home. With that surface, I made a series of self-portraits that I presented at NYAA, which then became the inspiration for the MetroCard art show.”
Lower East Side gallery Sloan Fine Art hosted Single Fare 2 in March, the second annual exhibit of artworks done on MetroCards featuring more than 2,000 submissions.
“It’s come up and blown over in a sense,” said Drake of concerns about MTA. “The MTA was getting a lot of attention; people were writing about them. People saw the MetroCard as kind of a metaphor for the self…there are thousands of them, billions of people. It was a nice way to build a community.”
Drake said MTA never bothered him about the exhibit since he marketed the show as “selling art that is on or on top of or built out of MetroCards.”
The same could not be said for McKenzie. Three weeks ago, she received a letter from MTA that indicated her work infringed on its copyrighted intellectual property. The letter—signed by an intern at the corporation’s marketing department—stated MTA believed her work made inappropriate use of the MetroCard brand and logo.
The letter read: “The MTA has a well-established product licensing program which markets authorized versions of such products. While we have no record of your firm requesting or being granted such authorization, we are prepared to initiate discussions with you about acquiring a license from us.”
Panicked by the accusations, McKenzie removed all MetroCard-related items from her website. She later reposted the MetroCard paintings yet removed a “before picture” showing an unpainted card. McKenzie also avoided all occurrences of the word “MetroCard,” opting instead for phrasing such as “New York transit card,” and included a legal disclaimer indicating that her work is in no way endorsed by MTA.
The coverage ironically sparked her first business sale.
“I only had 18 made,” McKenzie said of her subway card paintings, adding that she put them up for sale on Etsy.com. “People had ‘Liked’ them, but I hadn’t sold any until I blogged about it.”
McKenzie is a computer graphics artist for ABC News and considers art a side project. She thought the use of MetroCards would be an interesting new medium.
“I had been painting some New York iconography, New York water towers, and thought, well, I’ll do a series of these on the MetroCard, you know, icon on icon,” she said. “Someone buys a painting of New York and they get a little piece of New York.”
Sabina Sosa discovered McKenzie’s work when she read about her conflict with MTA.
“It was on Facebook via the New York Post newsfeed. I watched her video interview and was outraged,” Sosa said. She purchased two of VH McKenzie’s transit card paintings for $48 plus $2 shipping. “What I liked was it was different and familiar at the same time. When you’re done with a MetroCard, it’s garbage but Victoria made it into a miniature masterpiece.”
John Breznicky, a New York City artist who also use Etsy.com to sell poster-sized abstractions of a subway map, received a warning notification from MTA similar to that of McKenzie’s.
“I was initially contacted by an intern at the MTA requesting that I remove my listing immediately because I might be infringing on MTA copyrights,” Breznicky said. “I did not comply because I knew we had not used any MTA branding, logos, designs, etc. and I knew that our design had been changed significantly from the actual NYC subway map.”
Breznicky revised his Etsy listing to exclude the words “MTA” or “New York City subway” and has not been contacted again by MTA.
McKenzie said Mark Heavey, MTA Chief of Marketing and Advertising, told her the issue was not that she painted the cards, but that she used the MTA logo in her marketing.
She has not heard from MTA since the revision of her site, The Night Shift. McKenzie sold all of her transit card art and has been commissioned to paint more.
Petitions and emails are flying at Girls Prep Middle School in the East Village, with both parents, teachers and students claiming the once stellar middle school is in serious trouble.
“I fought tooth and nail to get my daughter into Girls Prep and I’ve been very happy with my daughters education. I just hope we can move past all this,” said Jamila Banks, whose daughter is in the 5th grade.
Parents are circulating an online petition to try and get Morcate reinstated. Disgruntled teachers sent out a group email to parents expressing their disagreement with the decision to fire Morcate and their frustrations with the current administration.
“Kim guided the culture of the school. In her absence, we feel untethered,” the teachers email said. “We are left in a school that is a shell of what it once was. The email goes on to explain the breakdown of the disciplinary system stating that “restricted lunch, a consequence that the girls understood and were accustomed to, has “disappeared.”
Students also recently started circulating their own petition calling the school “a wreck.” The petition also complains that new principal Ian Rowe, is never at the school. Rowe has no school administration experience. He would not respond to a request for an interview. Parents say that neither Rowe or co-principal, Rebekah Marler are in the school everyday.
“With Morcate, she was always there in the morning, walking into every class, making sure that everything was in order. Salazar said. “She knew all the girls by name. It’s little things like that, that really matter the most.”
Marler is currently on a two-week vacation and could not be reached for comment.
The crucial testing for the city-wide progress report is about three weeks away.
In a recent school board meeting Marler told the parents they were doing everything in their power to help the students succeed.
“We are developing a curriculum designed to empower each student to build strong character, demonstrate critical thinking, possess a core body of knowledge and be on a predictive path to earn a degree from a four year university,” she said.
But PTA president, Harley Sanchez’s new worry is that they will start to lose teachers.
I don’t think Ian (Rowe) realized how hard [all these changes] were going to be,” said Harley Sanchez, mother of a 5th grade student and PTA president. “I’m afraid we are going to lose some really good teachers because of it.”
The only certainty in the school’s future is that it will remain an East Village fixture. The Panel for Educational Policy voted in favor of the relocation of Girls Prep Middle School Wednesday at Brooklyn Technical High School. The middle school, currently residing on Astor Place, will share school space with East Side Community School at 12th street between 1st and Avenue A. The school year will open at the new location.
Superheroes line the walls of St. Mark’s Comics in the East Village. But after a fire struck the store Feb. 17, the real heroes were members of the New York City police and fire departments.
“I have nothing but nice things to say about the firemen and the police,” storeowner Mitch Cutler said in reference to the quick response by both teams.
The fire, which was readily contained, ignited behind a wall at the front of St. Mark’s Comics. Apart from damage to the wall and several statues, no one was harmed and the store reopened shortly after the incident.
“The word of the fire traveled very quickly and we were very gratified to see the people who came in and the phone calls and the emails, it was a very humbling experience,” Cutler said.
St. Mark’s Comics held a fire sale to increase store traffic; by the next week, the store was back in business.
“I don’t think [the fire] is going to really make a difference on business,” Anthony Crep of the East Village said. “I mean when they put the little sale things out that say fire sale, they do sales there on a semi-regular basis, you know that brings the people in and I think that more than a fire or anything would help business or hinder business. I mean they are an institution they have been her for ages, so I don’t think they are going anywhere.”
Faruk Mohammed recalled dozens of mornings when he’d show up to work and find signs of intruders. Packages seemed to be torn open, and their contents covered the floor.
Mohammed, who works at Akter Grocery at 106 Avenue B, set traps, hoping to catch the offender. When he returned to work the next morning, he was shocked to find not just one but five intruders — five fat, gray rats stuck in traps.
“We’re losing business because of rats,” said Mohammed, 32. “We had to move all the shelves around because they bite everything.”
Mohammed is one of many East Village residents affected by rat infestations. And unfortunately for them, things could potentially get worse in the coming months.
On March 30, amNewYork reported the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene plans to reduce the number of pest control aides by almost 70 percent — cutting 57 of 84 full-time positions.
Pest control aides are workers who respond to complaints called into 311 and from community boards about rats; they conduct inspections and work to rid troubled areas of rodent infestations when owners fail to act.
According to officials from DC37, a union for public employees in New York City, four of six workers in Manhattan and one of two supervisors will be cut.
Amy Geung, who lives on E. 10th Street across from Tompkins Square Park, worries about how these cuts will affect the neighborhood.
“I’ve lived here seven years, and each year (the rat problems) have gotten better,” said Geung, 41. “If they cut those positions, what will happen? Probably, it will set us back.”
Geung says her apartment building doesn’t seem to have problems with rats but plenty of other places nearby do.
“You see the rats in some areas a lot — like near trash or dirty vacant lots. In those areas, (you see) one rat trap after another,” she said.
Mohammed said rat traps are necessary in his store because of the amount of trash that accumulates.
“The basement is all garbage. But where I live (on First Avenue), there are no signs of rats,” he said. “I think garbage is the key.”
Michael Rivera, co-owner of Beyond Pest Control at 80 First Avenue, agrees. Rivera said there are some parts of the East Village that are hit hard.
“St. Marks is one place that’s heavily, heavily hit. All the street shops there, and the transit system,” Rivera said. “People are generally not clean, and that attracts rats. There’s no real cure for it.”
The health department couldn’t say how often pest control aides are sent out, and Community Board 3 didn’t respond when asked how often complaints are reported in the East Village. But Rivera said he gets calls daily about rat problems in Manhattan. As for the East Village specifically, Rivera said, “it’s hard to say.”
But Steve Rose, who works as a superintendent on East Sixth Street, around the corner from Akter Grocery, and manages the Creative Little Garden also on East Sixth Street, tells an entirely different story.
“I live on the ground floor. … I’ve been there thirty-five years, and I’ve seen all of five rats. People tell me they see them in the garden, but I’ve never seen them,” said Rose, 59. “It doesn’t seem to be a problem.”
Rose admits he keeps his properties very clean, which might make all the difference. In his apartment building, he keeps trashcans sealed and indoors. In the garden, rat traps are set and trash is kept to a minimum.
In a statement, the health department maintains “proposed cuts focus on the services that would have the least adverse impact.” Officials said the pest-control program will “continue to answer complaints about rats, conduct inspections, exterminate, issue violations for rats and garbage … (and) proceed with the indexing initiative which was recently expanded to Manhattan.”
The indexing program is detailed in the Rat Information Portal, an extension of the NYC.gov Web site, which provides specific data “to proactively identify the presence of rats in neighborhoods, and to compare the severity of infestations among blocks and neighborhoods.” Using the RIP complaint tracker, users can zoom into specific places in the city to determine whether an area shows signs of rats, problem conditions or has passed inspection.
Additionally, the RIP provides a 10-page guide on how to prevent and control rat problems. The health department reminds residents to store garbage in rat-resistant, sealed containers; to trim shrubs and keep landscaped areas free of tall weeds; and to check for and repair cracks or holes in buildings and sidewalks.
The pest-control aide cuts represent just 35 percent of staff cuts the health department plans to make, which could save the city as estimated $1.5 million. Almost every city agency has been asked to reduce spending by at least 15 percent to help New York City close its $2-billion deficit.
While it’s uncertain when these proposed cuts would go into effect, it would likely be at the start of the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Visit the Rat Information Portal and see your neighborhood statistics at https://gis.nyc.gov/doh/rip/.