Neighbors are determined to say goodbye to Chai. A rally was held on Wednesday, July 10th, outside of the Chai Home for Adults on Beach 125th Street by residents who claim that the eyesore of a building has long been neglected, even before Hurricane Sandy, and remains as a potential danger to the community.
Dozens of residents from Beach 125th Street and other areas of the community, as well as local community leaders, met in front of the run-down beachfront building on Wednesday night to express their concern over the way the property has been kept. Many residents claim that it hasn’t been cleaned or taken care of since the storm and even before that.
The beachfront building can be seen with broken windows and doors, missing bricks and chipped paint. Neighbors say it has been in this crumbling condition and has had several violations against it for at least a decade, with Hurricane Sandy making it even worse.
The senior residents of the building were not evacuated until two days after Hurricane Sandy. They were then sent to a temporary shelter in the cafeteria of Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene, Brooklyn for two weeks and the cafeteria was off limits to students. The residents are still displaced in other parts of the city.
The building remains abandoned, and up until earlier this week, the property had remained untouched by cleaning crews, allowing mold to grow and the condition to worsen over the past eight months. Neighbors are concerned that the building, which is unsecured, could be vandalized and broken into and could easily become a fire hazard. They’re also worried about possible hazardous materials inside like food that may have been left behind.
“Our basic focus is to get the area secured so there’s no vandalism or fires. We want this area cleaned up,” Paul Richter, one of the rally organizers, said.
Last week, residents of Beach 125th Street held a meeting and brought their concern to local community leaders and activists such as New York State Senator Joe Addabbo Jr., Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, and City Council candidate Lew Simon. The community leaders immediately took action and tracked down those associated with the building, including apparent owners Esther Reunman and Abraham Backenroth and lease holder, Abraham Lichtcheim.
By Sunday, cleaning crews were at the property to remove sand and debris, but resi- dents say the workers dumped what is believed to be contaminated sand, right back onto the beach. The workers also chopped down dead trees in front of the building and put up a flimsy chain-link fence around the area in response to the request to keep the property secured. Some neighbors think that the sudden work was done only because the owner knew of the impending rally.
“They’ve done half of what we wanted, but there’s more to be done,” Richter said. Simon called the quick-fix a “bandaid as a solution to the problem.” Another person said the owners simply “put lipstick on a pig.”
The crowd was unanimous about the need for more to be done with some even suggesting that the building should be torn down completely. Resident Dan Kirk said he’s willing to buy the property himself. “I’ll offer a million dollars,” he said, adding that he would demolish the building and turn it into a bed and breakfast.
Simon said Lichtcheim who has a lease to the property wants to put an assisted living program in the building. “He’s gotta be kidding,” Simon added. After seeing the condition that the building has been in for several years and the number of violations against it, many simply want the owners out of the community. “We’ll fight until we stop him from doing what he wants.”
“We have good neighbors and then we have bad neighbors who don’t care about their neighbors, don’t care about the community and will do anything to make a buck,” Goldfeder said at the rally. “We’ve got to hold these guys accountable.”
Both Goldfeder and Simon said city and state agencies will be alerted continuously to stay on top of violations.
Despite the effort, some neighbors doubt that anything will come out of the rally and the added pressure. “Do I think anything is going to be done? No,” Donofrio said. As the rally crowd dispersed, a man said “We’d like to say bye to the Chai.”
Simon said the community will be heard. Simon reminded the crowd that he has organized rallies off the peninsula in front of the homes of negligent landlords. He said he’s ready to do so again, if necessary.