14 Months After Sandy, Rent Rebates Coming to Knickerbocker Village

More than a year after promises were first made in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the residents of Knickerbocker Village are finally getting their rent rebates.

Knickerbocker Village.

Knickerbocker Village.

Tenants at the 1600-unit affordable housing complex on Cherry Street got the news in the past 24 hours.  The rent concessions will be reflected on their January and February statements.   The equivalent of nine days of rent will be refunded with additional rebates possible in the months ahead.

Knickerbocker Village remained in the dark and cold last year – with no heat, water and electricity – long after utilities were restored in buildings throughout the neighborhood.  The 1930’s-era complex suffered catastrophic damage to its mechanical systems when water came rushing from the East River as Sandy hit.  In November of last year, James Simmons, an executive with the firm that owns Knickerbocker Village, vowed during a public meeting, “we will ensure that not a penny of rent is paid on days in which you did not have essential services.” The complex was in the dark for at least 17 days.

But later, the ownership group, led by AREA Property Partners, back peddled , telling residents concessions could not be made until the complex’s insurance carrier agreed to pay hurricane-related claims.  In the months that followed, local elected officials urged the management team to keep its promise to the tenants.  State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver argued on behalf of Knickerbocker Village with the Department of Financial Services, a state agency that oversees the insurance industry.

A short time ago, Silver, City Council member Margaret Chin, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer put out a press release announcing the rebate agreement.  Silver said:

I have worked tirelessly to help deliver this rent credit to the tenants of Knickerbocker Village and I am enormously pleased that they will now receive it… Residents of this complex suffered in cold and darkness after Superstorm Sandy and they deserve to be compensated for their hardship. This rent credit will bring much-needed financial relief to hundreds of families in time for the holiday season. I will continue to ensure that Knickerbocker Village residents are able to fully recover from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.

Bob Wilson, a spokesman for the tenant association added:

This is a huge victory for tenants of Knickerbocker Village… We went through incredibly difficult times following the storm and this rent credit is a major step towards our goal of restoring and upgrading Knickerbocker Village. I want to thank Assemblyman Silver, who spearheaded this effort, along with Senator Squadron, Borough President Stringer, and Council Member Chin.

Some longtime residents say that while they’re grateful the rent breaks are finally in the works, it is clear the rebates will eventually come out of their own pockets.  Knickerbocker Village is a state-supervised affordable complex and, as such, its books must be balanced each year.  The rebates, they say, will have to be accounted for in the budget.  But the press release from the elected officials asserted, “the credits will not come at the expense of tenants or impact building repairs.”

In October, the complex was awarded $1.46 million from the “Build It Back” hurricane recovery fund.  The money is being used to upgrade elevators damaged during Sandy.  A second round of funding is expected to help storm-proof Knickerbocker Village, including the replacement of the entire mechanical and electrical infrastructure.