The residents of Knickerbocker Village are no longer suffering in obscurity. Last night, they came in droves to P.S.1 on Henry Street for a meeting organized by State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was there, as were City Council member Margaret Chin, State Senator Daniel Squadron and several television stations. The star of the show, however, was James Simmons, an executive with Knickerbocker Village’s owner, AREA Property Partners.
After two weeks mostly without electricity, heat and hot water, Simmons told residents of the 1,600-apartment affordable housing complex what they wanted to hear. First, he said, engineers hope to have all electrical power back by tomorrow and heat and hot water by the end of the week. Second, Simmons promised, “we will ensure that not a penny of rent is paid on days in which you did not have essential services.”
The politicians all made brief statements, but most of the evening was consumed with Simmons’ answers to questions that tenants had scrawled on note cards. The format guaranteed that the night was an orderly, somewhat docile affair, in contrast with a spirited rally over the weekend in which some residents called for a rent strike.
Simmons said his staff has worked tirelessly to overcome the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy, adding “I feel for each and every one of you deeply.” He explained that water gushed over the banks of the East River with great power, dislodging steel doors and damaging huge oil tanks. The water that settled in the lower level of Knickerbocker Village became contaminated with oil, creating an environmental hazard that had to be dealt with in a painstaking manner.
Responding to complaints that management did not act quickly or decisively in the aftermath of the storm, Simmons said, “I assure you we were not sitting on our hands.” At the same time, however, he conceded that the management team should have done a better job of communicating with residents about the challenges they were confronting. Simmons explained, “we were 100 percent focused on [assessing the situation]” but “we weren’t as forthright as you deserved.”
Simmons said his primary concern is the safety of Knickerbocker Village residents. He was asked whether there was a chance the power would be cut again, as it was following Con Ed’s restoration of electricity Nov. 2. His answer: only if too many residents start using space heaters at the same time.
Simmons acknowledged a lot of planning is required to head off a similar disaster in the future. “I don’t believe it’s the last time the East River crosses Cherry Street,” he said.