New York, NY – Besieged Queens residents suffering with rampant rodents, shoddy renovations and tenant harassment at their Marine Terrace apartment complex in Astoria are hopeful a new alliance with the Building Trades’ #CountMeIn campaign will finally help put an end to the troubles they’ve been complaining about since Related Cos. bought the place in 2016.
About 80 tenants and staffers from the subsidized Section 8 housing development in the northeast section of Queens turned out for a December 5, meeting with #CountMeIn organizers at the Astoria World Manor, eager for relief.
“If we don’t hold [Related] accountable, they will not hold themselves accountable — and that’s what our job is,” Laborers Local 79’s Bernard Callegari told Marine Terrace tenants.
Marine Terrace resident Deborah Pawluk, 62, said that she initially welcomed Related’s takeover of the development.
“I thought [Related] were going to do good for our community, so we kind of became buddies — not realizing what kind of company they were,” she said.
Related Cos., developers of the massive Hudson Yards project on Manhattan’s West Side, purchased the eight-acre Astoria apartment development about three years ago, as part of an expanding affordable housing portfolio of stable income that helps mitigate the financial risks associated with big projects like Hudson Yards.
The real estate giant, also the largest landlord in New York City, promised significant interior and exterior upgrades to the Marine Terrace development to go along with accompanying rents hikes.
Necessary asbestos abatement associated with those renovations have reportedly resulted in the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] nailing Related with more than $19,000 in fines. In one instance, at 19-02 20th Avenue, the EPA hit Related with a $4,800 fine for allowing “persons inside the workplace without proper protective clothing.”
“Related got a heavily subsidized $99 million loan to buy Marine Terrace,” Laborers Director of Research Oona Adams told Marine Terrace residents on December 5. “They got that money in order to buy Marine Terrace and they made a promise attached to that money that they would fix it — first promise was asbestos abatement. So, who do you think they chose? There are a whole lot of responsible asbestos abatement developers…but they chose a developer who is renowned across this city, debarred by multiple public agencies: New York Insulation. And they ended up getting $20,000 in fines for the job they did abating that asbestos. That’s a broken promise that they made to all of you and all of New York.”
Representatives of the #CountMeIn campaign have been canvassing the Marine Terrace development since last summer, talking to residents and further cataloguing their complaints.
Neighbors have dubbed the 12-inches of flood waters that routinely collect in one of the Marine Terrace courtyards, “The Rat Pool.”
“The amount of rats we have here is just astronomical,” Pawluk told LaborPress. “If you throw a rock you’ll have about 20 rats running at you — not to mention the ones that rip open the garbage at night. If I go to walk my service animal and throw away garbage — I have to watch that the rats don’t come and jump at us.”
The amount of rats we have here is just astronomical — if you throw a rock you’ll have about 20 rats running at you. — Marine Terrace tenant Deborah Pawluk
Inside her own apartment, Pawluk says the floor “swoops” so severely that a walk down the hallway to her bedroom is enough to aggravate the pinched nerves in her hips and back.
Last March, 7-year-old Precise Tucker tragically died following a choking accident inside her mother’s Marine Terrace apartment. Pawluk, a retired EMT and 9/11 volunteer, attempted to help rescue the stricken child — but says EMTs could not immediately locate the apartment because the address numbers had not yet been installed on the outside of the building.
“She was the most precious little girl you ever want to meet and her ashes are around my neck — if there was an address on the building, an ambulance could have found her,” Pawluk said.
Related holds a Section 8 contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] covering existing Marine Terrace apartments through 2036. According to Adams, the company has received $4.5 billion in public benefit over the last decade alone — including the highly subsidized $99 million loan to purchase Marine Terrace.
“Don’t think for a minute just because you don’t pay $3,500 a month for rent, doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to the same conditions that their other properties have, because Related isn’t just getting your rent money — they’re getting subsidized by the government,” Callegari said.
Related and its founder Stephen Ross remain locked in a pitched battle with the NYC Building Trades’ #CountMeIn campaign over the use of nonunion labor for the second phase of the Hudson Yards project — the largest private real estate development in U.S. history.
Company Executive VP of Corporate Affairs Joanna Rose touted Related’s “leadership role as one of the largest private owners of affordable housing and legacy of never converting a single affordable unit to market rent”, while angrily dismissing #CountMeIn campaign efforts to organize Marine Terrace residents as a “smear campaign” by “union bosses.”
“At Marine Terrace we acquired, preserved and rehabilitation over 400 units of Section 8 affordable housing adding community space, a fitness center, computer lab, laundry room and nurses office, and are near completion on over 50 new units; all of which are staffed and serviced by SEIU local 32BJ union members,” Rose said. “This smear campaign by LiUNA, the Laborers Local 79 and their union bosses Armand Sabitoni and Robert “Bobby” Bonzanza is sad and desperate. It shows that this construction union will go to any lengths to divert attention from its obvious failure to compete fairly and reform its work practices which has resulted in its dwindling share of the market. Such actions will not be tolerated and we will pursue all remedies.”
At this months’s meeting in Astoria, residents of another Related development in Manhattan told Marine Terrace tenants that they are experiencing similar issues at the building where they live.
“We’re have the same problems that you guys are having in our building,” Marguerite Plekhanov said. “A lot people are having random utility allowance increases in our building as well, without proper notices. A lot of people have not been getting their leases on time. Unfortunately, a lot of people, including myself, have dealt with landlord harassment.”
Another longtime Marine Terrace tenant, who asked to remain anonymous fearing retaliation for speaking out, told LaborPress that she fears being pushed out and that many tenants are routinely shown a lack of respect.
“All the owners care about is how much more money they can stuff into their pockets,” the 62-year-old resident said. “It’s interesting that instead of taking responsibility and addressing tenant issues, Related tries to place the blame on others. Anyone who lives or visits here can see we have real concerns about neglect on the property and lack of respect by management.”
Members of the #CountMeIn campaign will host another meeting with Marine Terrace tenants at the Astoria World Manor, 2522 Astoria Blvd, on January 9, at 6 p.m.
Before wrapping up this month’s meeting with Marine Terrace tenants, Adams urged residents to continue standing up and speaking out.
“The fact of the matter is, that they may charge a lower rent to tenants, but the difference between what a low-income tenant pays and what the market rate is for that apartment is made up for in subsidies,” Adams said. “So, you get a subsidy to buy it, and then you get a subsidy to bring you right up to market rate. That is not a thing that is done out of the goodness of anybody’s heart —and that means that every single person in this room should feel that they can hold Related accountable.”