Followup: Tenants Want Safety Assurances After Fatal Elevator Accident

We have a followup today on the tragedy that occurred on New Year’s Eve, when a 25-year-old man was crushed by an elevator at the Grand Street Guild apartment complex. Residents of the building at 131 Broome St. are meeting tomorrow to discuss long-standing concerns about elevator safety. They have requested the attendance of executives from Wavecrest Management, which operates the affordable housing development.

Last Thursday evening, an elevator cab slammed down on Stephen Hewett-Brown, an aspiring musician from the Bronx. Efforts to save him were futile. Many news stories highlighted problems with the elevators going back several years. In the Department of Buildings’ online file for 131 Broome St., 44 violations have been recorded.

Leaders of the tenant association tell us they have been pleading with the management company for several years to address safety issues in the elevators at all three buildings in the complex. Daisy Paez, tenant association president, said, “It took a life to be lost. Now Grand Street Guild is getting all of this attention. We want to make sure this never happens again. We want to know that (tenants) can get in the elevators and be safe.”

On Saturday, a memo was distributed by management that read, in part:

We express our sincere condolences to the family of Stephen Hewett-Brown for their loss. They are foremost in our thoughts. We assure you that safety is our paramount concern. We and our elevator company are actively working with the New York City Department of Buildings, the NYPD and all appropriate authorities to determine the underlying cause of this tragedy. The elevators underwent a complete modernization in 2011 and are regularly inspected and serviced by a licensed elevator maintenance and inspection agency.

131 Broome St.
131 Broome St.

Tenant association members say, however, that a “complete modernization” of Grand Street Guild’s elevators did not occur. As evidence, they cited several emails between tenants and management in the past few years. A January 2011 email stated that one elevator in each building would be modernized. In February of 2012, tenants complained about an elevator that was “jumping” erratically with passengers inside. During a $60 million renovation project funded by the federal government in 2012, there were weekly meetings involving tenant leaders and construction managers. “The elevators were at the top of the agenda for quite some time,” said Paez. Rather than replacing the cabs, tenant association members say, metal sheeting was wrapped around all four walls of each elevator. The improvements were purely cosmetic, they contend. Just three weeks ago, Paez was in an elevator with her dog when they became trapped and had to be rescued by the fire department.

Alexander Schnell, Buildings Department press secretary, told The Lo-Down, “The Department’s investigation is ongoing. Our inspectors have been on site since this tragedy occurred.” We’re told the elevator that malfunctioned has not yet been returned to service. The remaining two elevators at 131 Broome St. have been tested and are in use. According to the Buildings Department, the defective elevator was installed in 2011 and was last inspected in December. There were no open violations for “immediately hazardous” conditions. There were three open violations for what the Buildings Department considers minor infractions.

We asked Wavecrest Management for their take on the elevator modernization program. This is the response from Jay Yablonsky, director of property management:

The modernization of the elevators was specified and overseen by an independent elevator consultant and licensed architectural firm. The work was signed off by both HUD and the New York City Department of Buildings and consisted of the installation of new major elevator components, including, but not limited to, the controllers, hoist motor, hoist and governor cables, and traveling cables. In addition, those components that were retained were adjusted and serviced for proper operation.

Yablonsky said tenants will be updated regarding their investigation when more information becomes available. Alexander Schnell, the city spokesperson, said, “Accidents like this are extremely rare. The city’s elevators make billions of passenger trips every year without incident.”

“In the unlikely event of a service interruption,” he added, “the safest place to be is inside the elevator. Ring the alarm, stay calm, and wait in the elevator until help arrives.”

The three 26-story towers that make up the apartment complex were built by the Archdiocese of New York (under the auspices of St. Mary’s Church) in the early 1970s. The properties are controlled by a not-for-profit organization known as the Grand Street Guild Housing Development Fund Corp.