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Knickerbocker Village in the Dark

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We have been keeping a close eye this week on Knickerbocker Village, the nearly 1600 unit affordable housing complex that’s still mostly without power and heat in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Yesterday we spent a couple of hours visiting with residents, checking out a warming center set up by Hamilton Madison House and trying to determine just how much longer the repairs on the development’s decimated electrical systems are likely to take.

The complex, which spans two city blocks on Monroe Street between Catherine and Market, includes around 700 tenants over the age of 60. There are a couple dozen home-bound seniors who require daily attention. On Tuesday, a 101-year old woman, Pao Chu Hsieh, died in a fifth floor apartment after experiencing trouble breathing. Hsieh, who did not live at Knickerbocker Village but was staying with her son, died of natural causes, according to the Medical Examiner.  But news of her death has caused many at Knickerbocker Village to focus on the risks to the elderly population, living for an extended period with no heat.

The water line created when Hurricane Sandy came ashore is clearly visible at Knickerbocker Village.
The flood waters burst through the door of a mechanical room on Cherry Street.
Water is being slowly pumped out of Knickerbocker Village. Hoses from a central courtyard are stretched out onto the street.

As we reported earlier in the week, Knickerbocker Village’s mechanical rooms were swamped with flood waters when the hurricane hit. You can see evidence of the damage done in the photos posted above. On Cherry Street, a door to a mechanical room was no match for the waters that came rushing from the East River. Small pumps are being used to drain water from basement spaces.

Yesterday afternoon we were hoping to speak with Knickerbocker Village Manager Vincent Callagy, but he was not available. This being the case, our understanding of the the engineering issues being dealt with is based on information provided by Hamilton Madison House and local elected officials.

It appears that much of the Depression era complex’s mechanical infrastructure was completely destroyed. Salt water had an immediate corrosive effect on critical electrical equipment. Two large boilers must be replaced, but so far building management has been unable to locate replacement units. As of this week, limited power was restored to four out of 12 buildings at Knickerbocker Village. It could be weeks, however, before the west side of the complex is back to normal.

Hamilton Madison House, one of the neighborhood’s oldest social service organizations, has offices within Knickerbocker Village. They were flooded, so the agency has had to relocate while working hand-in-hand with several other non-profits, FEMA and city officials to provide emergency services to residents. Hamilton Madison established a daytime warming center at 50 Madison Street (in the Smith Houses), where a hot lunch is served every day. They have also been trying to open a 24-hour shelter for tenants, but their facilities do not meet city requirements so it appears unlikely this is going to be possible.

Nancy Ijoe in her apartment at 14 Monroe Street.

Yesterday we went along with Hamilton Madison House’s Vicki Mehmel as she visited Knickerbocker Village tenants. Jean Mendoza, a former nurse who is now confined to her bed in a third floor apartment, has 24 hour care, so she’s at least not alone. When asked what she needs, Mendoza said, “I need the lights.” In another apartment, Nancy Ijoe sat by the window, making the most of the fading daylight, and showed us a letter from management explaining Knickerbocker Village’s predicament. Ijoe asked Mehmel for a new hearing aid battery, but said she did not need more food or water. Many residents appeared to be taking the ordeal in stride. Enrico and Anita Galasso, who have lived in the famously diverse complex for 60 years, kept the apartment warm by turning up the oven. They offered us coffee and Anita (a twinkle in her eye) even asked Mehmel whether Hamilton Madison House could use a donation. “We’re supposed to be helping you,” Mehmel responded.

Abraham Lee.

Not all residents are so charitable towards building management. As you can see from the comments left after we posted a story on Knickerbocker Village yesterday, there’s a lot of frustration about a lack of information regarding the status of repairs and a general feeling that not enough is being done to speed up the repair timetable.

Over at the Madison Street warming center we spoke with Abraham Lee. He planned to go stay with his son on Long Island but like many other local residents, his car was locked in the flooded public parking garage at the Cherry Street Pathmark. Lee said he’s inspired to see neighbors coming together to help each other and he’s thankful for the efforts of government agencies and non-profits. But at the same time, Lee acknowledged, tempers are growing short and all sorts of rumors are flying because there’s been little actual information from management.

Another longtime tenant, Emilio Valazquez, is making do in a fifth floor apartment with his 12 year old son. He also praised aid organizations for providing Knickerbocker Village residents with food, blankets and water. But Valazquez said preparations for the storm were clearly inadequate. He questioned why a switch box for building generators would have been placed in the basement, in a location so susceptible to flooding. The other day he encountered an 85 year old man attempting to navigate the pitch dark stairwell. He knows of another resident, with only has one leg, who’s stuck in a 10th floor apartment.

City Council member Margaret Chin updates a Knickerbocker Village resident.

While we were at the warming center, City Council member Margaret Chin arrived with some news; two generators had been located to help expedite the repairs. She, along with State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senator Dan Squadron, have been working on the issues at Knickerbocker Village for several days. All of them have visited with residents.

Yesterday, the elected officials met with city agencies and FEMA. They’re in the process of helping to set up another warming center, within the Knickerbocker Village complex. They’re also assisting building management in the quest for boilers. FEMA was on site yesterday afternoon; they promised to bring in canteen trucks to supply food to tenants, but they had not yet arrived. Different organizations, including Asian Americans for Equality, Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and other groups with expertise in working with Chinese language tenants, are also lending a hand.

Following our initial stories, Mehmel said she received a large number of offers from people eager to volunteer at Knickerbocker Village or to donate money and supplies to the effort. If you would like to help, you can email her at vickimehmel@hmhonline.org.


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  1. It looks like they could use much heavier duty pumps. Go down to Water and Broad to see the huge pumping operation being applied to office buildings there. Aren’t people more important?

  2. This is very frustrating, My parents are very old and live on the one of the highest floor in the building, my father is partially disabled. The weather is now freezing and we have no heat. We have only so many blankets and they sleep with their coats, socks, thermals and gloves on, under 5 blankets. They have showered ONCE sit Sandy and that was last Friday when we got electricity back for less than 20 hrs. If we were on the upper east side, would this have been taken care of earlier? Can the city provide more manpower to speed this process up? Can the mayor try sleeping with no heat and only cold water? Forget about electricity, give us some heat. Give us warm water. At this point, electricity just seem so far away.

  3. This disaster in Knickerbocker is clearly caused by mismanagement, ignorance and incompetence. The owners have shown no respect or passion for their tenants. With an appropriate amount of resources the problem would have been solved after a couple days. It is now to the tenants not to accept the this poor behavior and fight back:
    a) Do not pay your rent
    b) Collect your invoices for extra cost that you had
    c) Document with a camera how the Knickerbocker management tries to solve the problem with almost no resources
    d) Call the press, call your elected representatives
    f) Call the Blumbergs office and ask for help

    The more people step up, the better. I will not disclose my real name here for now. But I am planning a class-action law suit against the owners after I find a law firm that will take the case. There is clear proof the owners neglect their responsibilities and be sure we will hurt them at the only place they can be hurt: In their wallet.

  4. Couldn’t agree more Sandy, The owners here clearly don’t care about
    us. As someone posted in the last article they will still remind
    everyone that they expect their rent on time..I can’t even fathom how
    that’s on their mind right now when they’re STILL pumping water this
    long after the hurricane, and have brought back practically nothing for
    us. I’ve already emailed Senator Schumer with both articles, Mayor
    Bloomberg, as well any news I can (NY1 and NyDailyNews so far) with this
    information as well as these articles. They already have one death on
    their hands now, and with so many elderlies I wouldn’t be surprised if
    they run into more if the “two to three weeks” estimate from the last
    article is true. Everyone should be spreading this around like a virus.

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your in-depth reporting and above all for your interest in this dismal situation.

  6. I am down for a class action suit. I’ve been looking into it myself. This lack of response from kv resident is unacceptable .

  7. I’m a person who picks up on the very slightest things and Honestly I knew knickerbocker village was full of it when they told me when I moved in last year I had to purchase screens from them to put in the windows for I think like 20 dollars each which is nothing but I just felt that was a little ridiculous and a little petty I might add…I’m moving in for the first time!!! You wouldn’t give somebody a apartment without a door or without a toilet seat would you…all B.S. aside I never imagined that a historic apartment complex such as knickerbocker village would have such a catastrophic event happen and never would I have thought in my lifetime that such a horrible disaster at the legendary KV would be handled with such incompetence, stupidity and bluntly speaking….cold-blooded heartlessness…this just farther proves what I’ve been saying for years that anywhere you go it doesn’t matter how big the corporation or the business…there is incompetence and stupidity everywhere down from your local bodegas or your mom and pop stores all the way up to Wall Street and the idiots who are in charge who supposedly call the shots aren’t any smarter or wiser than the people who is under them…YOU CAN’T GO TO SCHOOL FOR COMMON SENSE there is no course for that…you either have it or you don’t and it clearly shows that these people who supposedly “run things” don’t have one drop of it…and honestly speaking negligence like this happens in areas I grew up in all the time(Queens)but definitely not of this magnitude…to the residents of KV stay strong and god bless!!!!! In due time things WILL get better

  8. Thousands of Knickerbocker Village residents in Chinatown
    are still without electricity, heat, hot water, internet and other vital
    services. This complex is not public housing. Angry residents
    charge that the building’s owners and managers have been negligent in their
    response to hurricane Sandy, and also callous and indifferent to
    suffering residents. Especially insulting is the pandering and condescending
    way in which management and owners treat the Chinese speaking tenants.

    One dismayed tenant said “The day after Sandy, a couple of
    guys wearing sweatpants arrived with a van and a few small pumps. They
    worked for a few hours in one area, then disconnected the pump and went to
    another spot. It was a joke! It was obvious management wanted to save money.
    As of today, there is still only one functioning pump. The
    slow pump out allowed sea water to cause further damage to the building’s electrical and mechanical systems.

    Garbage was is piled up in front of buildings up until a few days ago. Management made no effort to communicate with residents until over a week after the storm. Confused security guards had no information from Owners or Management to give anxious residents. Volunteers with badly needed supplies were turned away the first few days and told to vacate the premises. One management official was overheard telling tenants that they should be grateful for the money spent on folding tables for a “warming room” set up over a week after the hurricane.

    Another resident complained that Vincent Callagy, General
    Manager at Knickerbocker, called the police to harass a tenant who was taking photos of the devastation. James Simmons, Vice-President of a “shadowy group of owners”, has not been seen. Residents want an inquiry into the business practices of the owners. High powered lawyers in expensive suits have been seen entering and leaving the building management’s office.

    Residents are also frustrated with managements inability and
    indifference towards using emails or texts to communicate information to residents, staff and relief agencies. FEMA and other aid organizations have stepped in to fill the lack of communication by Owners. As of today, Owners and Management have not given tenants an idea of when power will be restored. Instead, they say “we are all in this together”, “it’s an old
    building” and” it was a big storm”. These excuses aren’t enough for suffering families and elderly people who feel management had ample time to make basic, intelligent preparations. But they didn’t want to spend the money.

  9. management has worked continuously to help bring the power back to residents. there were precautions taken since the last black out to prevent this from happening our back up generators were blown out too. i have seen what the manager has done for the tenants here. where do you think we can get a boiler? we are not the only apartment complex that are having problems, where do you expect to find such a msss amount of generators and boilers in such a short amount of time?? even gasoline is in high demand

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