After two weeks in a Brooklyn hotel, at least some of the residents of 85 Bowery have been moved to the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Chinatown at their landlord’s expense.
The Department of Buildings slapped a full vacate order on the Bowery building Jan. 18, ordering property owner Joseph Betesh to replace an unstable stairwell within two weeks. This past weekend, Betesh told city officials that the project would not be completed by the Feb. 1 deadline (today).
It’s been a major hardship for the families to be sheltered in another borough, removed from local schools and other community services. Tenant advocates have demanded that the landlord pay to lodge residents somewhere in Chinatown. In the past day or two, he’s complied, providing 18 rooms at the Wyndham Chinatown, which is right up the street from 85 Bowery.
In a statement, Betesh’s company (Bowery 8385, LLC) said, “We are providing these quality hotel accommodations for families of 85 Bowery to ensure they are able to remain in the local community while our work continues. Our team is working diligently each day to repair the severely damaged infrastructure of 85 Bowery and make the building safe for habitation. We all share the same goal – moving families back into their homes as quickly as possible.”
A spokesperson with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) told us this evening, “HPD and DOB in coordination with City Hall have been working closely with the tenants’ representatives to get displaced families back to their community and homes as soon as possible. The owner is working to make needed repairs and has now agreed to pay for hotel rooms for most of the tenants, until the building is safe for them to return to. He has much more work to do, and we will be closely monitoring his progress.”
Yesterday, City Councilmember Margaret Chin released a letter sent to Betesh on Tuesday. “I demand relief for dozens of tenants,” wrote Chin, “who have been displaced from their homes since a court-ordered inspection determined that the building’s structural integrity posed substantial life-safety hazards…. I urge you to make immediate arrangements to cover hotel accommodations in Lower Manhattan for all displaced tenants for the duration of repairs.”
Tonight, Chin’s chief of staff, Paul Leonard, told us the Councilmember has, “urged HPD and the landlord to come to an agreement to house (in Lower Manhattan) all of the tenants that have been displaced.” Later, Chin released a statement, saying, “I was encouraged to see that the landlord heeded my demand for better living conditions near their workplaces, community support network and children’s schools. Now we need to ensure that this relief is offered to all families who will be displaced for an extended period of time while this necessary work is taking place. I am calling on HPD to take the lead and make sure that no family is left behind.”
A spokesperson for the tenant association, Vincent Cao, said 18 rooms is clearly insufficient to house the 75 people displaced from 85 Bowery (the tenement has 16 legal apartments). “We want more rooms,” said, Cao, “and we want to get back into our permanent homes.” He called on the city to take over from Betesh, who tenants believe is plotting to dislodge them from 85 Bowery for good. Cao also rejected any notion that Councilmember Chin helped secure the Chinatown hotel rooms. [The tenant association has for several years been at odds with Chin, having mobilized against her in last year’s City Council election]. “Our lawyer made sure we got those rooms,” said Cao.
City officials say they are working with the landlord to make sure that repairs happen as quickly as possible. The work, they report, includes replacing structural supports, stairwells and partitions that were illegal and dangerous. The tenants’ attorney provided the owner with a list of residents and family members in need of hotel rooms in Chinatown. HPD has committed, we were told tonight, to finding temporary housing in Lower Manhattan for any remaining residents who can’t be accommodated at the Wyndham Garden.
Meanwhile, a structural assessment of 85 Bowery has been completed, with the Department of Buildings concluding that the work required at 85 Bowery is extensive. The stairwells must be completely replaced and other structural issues addressed. The city has approved architectural and structural plans. According to city officials, Betesh has hired contractors to complete the work.
Tenants of 85 Bowery and community activists plan a rally at HPD’s office tomorrow afternoon at 3:30. The agency is located at 100 Gold St.