475 Kent: Confusion, Anger & Calls to Allow Residents Back
The controversy continues over 475 Kent Avenue, whose residents were ordered out on Sunday night--one of the winter's coldest--because of an illegal matzo factory and stored grain in the basement as well as a raft of fire code violations. Yesterday, Council Member David Yassky sent out an email with a statement calling on the city to allow the 150 residents the city displaced back into their homes as quickly as possible. "This is terrific hardship for those turned out of their homes, and a fast resolution to this situation is absolutely necessary," Mr. Yassky's statement said. "During the holiday season in 2000, the City forced tenants in DUMBO out of their homes because they lived in non-residential loft spaces. As a result of public outcry, the Administration pledged not to evict residents of illegal lofts spaces in the future. However, this is precisely what happened over the weekend."
The Council Member acknowledged "real safety concerns regarding 475 Kent Ave" but called on the city to allow residents "back into their homes as quickly as possible." He said that once the "explosive grain" was removed the city should allow residents back. "The City has stated that the building will not house tenants until there is a full Residential Certificate of Occupancy-- this can take months, and is entirely unacceptable, in addition to seeming to be a policy reversal," the statement said.
Mr. Yassky suggested that "if the City is implementing a policy of making homeless citizens out of loft residents, that is very dangerous indeed."
Later in the day, Mr. Yassky put up a post at 475 Kent's new website, detailing the situation as of yesterday evening. As it turned out, the city didn't allow anyone back into the building, but says people can go back after the "grain hazard" is removed tomorrow. The city provided Mr. Yassky with a "fact sheet" that says, among other things:
§ No occupancy will be allowed until extensive modifications are made to the building to make it safe and habitable.In the meantime, there is rampant speculation about why the evictions took place, with many people suggesting that a desire to convert the building to condos or to thwart rent control is behind it. A complaint to the Department of Buildings on January 19 about a defective sidewalk shed prompted an inspection that led to the evictions. (That such a complaint would be investigated within 48 hours is rather extraordinary in and of itself.)
§ Commercial occupancy - Commercial occupants will not be able to reoccupy their places of business until such time that all violations have been corrected.
§ Residential occupancy - Filing, by owner, for conversion to a residential building status will be necessary.
An email we got yesterday afternoon from one of the 60 people that had expected to be be allowed into the building to retrieve belongings expressed deep anger over the continued handling of the situations. Residents had been promised access to the building from 10AM-4PM and were, instead, still out in the cold waiting in early afternoon. The subject line of the email we got was "Total Fucking Clusterfuck at 475 Kent." It said: "it's a mess. the city (FDNY, NYPD, OEM) should be ashamed of themselves. i have never seen such piss poor organization or execution in my life. at this rate, it will take weeks or months for people to remove their belongings."
The last evacuation of a loft building was of one belonging to Josh Guttman (the Greenpoint Terminal Market landlord) in Dumbo during the Giuliani Administration. The public outcry over that situation led to a halt to such evictions by the city.
Evicted Residents Don't Know If They Can Ever Return [amNY]
Residents Might Be Allowed Back for Belongings on Thursday [NY1]
475 Kent Evacuation Paving the Way for Condos [Gothamist]
'Commune of Creative Types' in the Burg is Emptied Out [Brownstoner]