When You No Longer Know Your Neighbors

On Roosevelt Island: Housing Hazards Worsen

Updated 31 weeks ago David Stone
A propped open door lets anyone in without having to stop at the front desk for keys
A propped open door lets anyone in without having to stop at the front desk for keys
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

With surprising quiet, radical changes in how we live together on Roosevelt Island are rapidly increasing hazards for tenants in several complexes. It adds some poison to what many long time residents see as a wholesale abandonment of community values driven by real estate investors coveted as political allies of Governor Andrew Cuomo by RIOC.

Housing Hazards New and Increasing for Roosevelt Island

While the pictures you see in this article are from a single Roosevelt Island housing complex, Manhattan Park, indications are plentiful from anecdotal reports that the hazards depicted are not unique and that they may be worse elsewhere along Main Street.

For starters, keep in mind that the vast majority of Airbnb rentals are illegal, according to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, for a reason: they are substandard for health and safety, are not legally licensed and help tourists evade taxes the City depends on to pay for services.

And you can take for granted that building managers will deny their existence, but here is one example openly advertised and identifiable as available in Manhattan Park. 

Clean but flophouse style with only toilets and the kitchen interrupting rows of sleeping quarters
Clean but flophouse style with only toilets and the kitchen interrupting rows of sleeping quarters
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

The #1 danger upending tenants’ assumptions is the abandonment of building security.

Concierges managing front desks in lobbies at Manhattan Park readily concede their inability to control who comes in or goes out of the building.

Some transients waltz straight to the elevators without pausing at the desk and ignore requests to stop for clearance, according to multiple concierges.

“I’d get in more trouble if the elevator was dirty than from letting someone in the building,” reports one veteran doorman who counts four to five Airbnb controlled apartments in his building, adding to the already high volume of transients coming and going from dormitory style containers cut up out of what used to be two and three bedroom family living quarters.

Utility kitchen without a table, chairs or anything personal
Utility kitchen without a table, chairs or anything personal
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

No one from management on down knows who is walking the doors in any of the River Road buildings advertised as “luxe” nor, it seems, do they care.

Hazards at Roosevelt Landings may be even more acute because, without concierges, there’s not even the slightest obstacle to anyone who wants walking in. Exiting and entering residents typically hold open the locked exterior doors for anyone waiting outside.

It may be only a matter of time before somebody with really bad intentions gets the idea and takes advantage.

No amount of PSD patrols, short of posting an officer in every hallway, will be enough to stop a determined criminal. The opportunities are just too easy.

Routines we assumed to be in place to protect us are being abandoned be building management, and you can get an idea about how much they care about the dangers we’ve being exposed to by the response I got when I asked Manhattan Park Property Manager Michail Kim what steps he was taking to deal with the high level of unidentified transients…

He ignored the question, never answered.

Cheap partitions with individual sleeping quarters marked off by flattened out Main Street WIRE pages and inserts
Cheap partitions with individual sleeping quarters marked off by flattened out Main Street WIRE pages and inserts
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Other hazards created include careless handling of food waste that resulted in an outbreak of cockroaches and other insects in the refuse room, the AVAC chute and adjoining areas before management finally got things under control.

Hosts apparently were more eager to make money from subletting their spaces than they were to instruct the stream of rollover, short term guests on how to dispose of wastes.

But by far, the greater concern showed up last week. 

Discovering a door propped open by a food delivery bag — propping the door open enables transients to enter the building without asking at the concierge desk for keys — I checked inside.

As photos show, what was once a three-bedroom apartment designed for family living is not much more than a tidy flophouse. 

The utilitarian kitchen, absent seating or a table opens up to individual living quarters set off by cheap partitions and an entrance door that can’t fill up all the space, leaving a one-foot gap between it and the ceiling.

There are no common dining or living rooms, just bedrooms, plus kitchen and bathrooms.

Another bedroom, once the master bedroom and probably cut up into two, is set off to the right, and if you turn left, you find an impromptu corridor leading to another set of bedrooms where children once slept, watched TV, did homework and played with their computers.

I laughed a little when I saw flattened out pages from the Main Street WIRE, a food ad and other unidentifiable material taped to the partitions, apparently to identify one from the other.

But the laughter stopped when I looked up and saw that a smoke detector had been covered over with plastic to keep it from reacting, as it should, when smoke chokes the apartment.

Not only will it not alert sleeping tenants behind the cheap partitions before smoke or fire crosses the ceiling where a visible gap exists, it won’t help other people living on the floor who won’t know there’s a fire until smoke and flames have already advanced down the hallway, blocking stairway emergency exits.

On this floor, apartments at both ends are occupied by families with children, including three infants.

And they are living at risks laws and enforcement are supposed to prevent.

Gap between ceiling and door, cheap partitions and a disabled smoke detector invite disaster
Gap between ceiling and door, cheap partitions and a disabled smoke detector invite disaster
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Conclusion

Money rests behind these hazards.

Jamming a large number of individuals into apartments meant for fewer raises landlord income by enabling higher rents than families are able to pay. The Airbnb on River Road linked to above charges $112 per night per individual, enough to pay most if not all of the rent and utilities in that apartment, leaving the remainder of occupants as pure profit. 

Of course they’re willing to pay more, and that raises rents everywhere else as the tide rises.

But a more sneaky effect may be helping landlords get even more easy money, this time from government coffers. Section 8 apartments, which you’ll find in most Roosevelt Island buildings, are subsidized in a way that lets financially troubled families rent market rate apartments.

Section 8 beneficiaries pay a percentage of their income, and the state steps in to pay the rest of what's established as the prevailing market rate for similar apartments, now raised by transient quarters.

That way, the rising tide of rental rates enables landlords to pick up even more, this time from taxpayers.

At some point, this drive for dollars with inadequate concern for its affect on resident safety and security will result in not just an increasing middle class exodus from Roosevelt Island but, sooner or later, in personal tragedy as everyday protections, like smoke detectors and entry point security, show the way to new dangers.

With RIOC as weak-kneed in front of connected real estate companies as a thirteen year old who lied online to get a first date, there is virtually no chance the State agency will step up to the challenge as long as we have a governor named Cuomo.

The City? 

We tried that route too, and our complaint got buried in bureaucracy as do so many things with which government doesn’t want to get messy.

None of the officials you expect to look out for you can be counted on to do what they promised when they campaigned — you know, to fight for you — at least not when it comes to curtailing profits for real estate developers.

You are going to have to fend for yourself.

That’s the new Roosevelt Island as we make the turn into 2018.

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