2013-10-04 / Top Stories

What’s Wrong With Beach 115th Street?

By Dan Guarino

Residents have long complained about drugs, violence, disturbance and unsavory characters on Beach 115th Street. Photos by Dan Guarino Residents have long complained about drugs, violence, disturbance and unsavory characters on Beach 115th Street. Photos by Dan Guarino It may have been a recent trailer fire that brought new attention to Beach 115th Street, but residents, landlords, police and community activists agree the block has been a problem for years.

Running from Rockaway Beach Boulevard to the beach, the street is populated by several single room occupancy rooming houses, an assisted living center, a rehabilitation and long term care facility, the back of an abandoned movie theatre, an empty lot, a few newly constructed homes and old private houses some of which are in dire need of repair.

The fire, involving a trailer parked on an empty lot in the middle the block, is still under investigation.

Although accusations about events, facts and disputes before the fire vary depending on whom one is talking to, there seems to be general agreement on the long running issues on the block.

175 Beach 115th Street, one of two of the properties owned and operated as SRO’s by Matthew Safos. 175 Beach 115th Street, one of two of the properties owned and operated as SRO’s by Matthew Safos. As one resident said, “there are ongoing problems of disorderly conduct, drug sales and violence.”

“When I moved here in 2005,” the resident, who asked not be named, continued, “this block was not that much different from other blocks in the area.”

But while quality of life steadily improved on those streets, things stood still for Beach 115th Street.

“This block is in a time warp,” he said.

Expressing concern for his child and what they are encountering, he said, “I don’t want her to see people urinating; people fighting, drugs...

You can’t open your windows at night.”

It so happens, the block and the trailer have gotten some attention in The Wave in recent months. The messy lot in which the trailer sat was featured in The Wave as an “Eyesore of the Week.”

187 Beach 115th Street. 187 Beach 115th Street. Mentioned in the article was Matthew Safos who, through his companies, Shelter Inc. and Rockaway Revival Inc., owns several properties in the area, including three SRO’s on the block.

SRO’s, or Single Room Occupancy hotels, rent single or double rooms to people on a month to month basis. Some include kitchen facilities and bathrooms, while others have no kitchens and offer shared bathrooms.

Through the years, some SROs have caused great consternation in Rockaway. Those on Beach 115th Street are now drawing attention. The buildings, themselves, are ramshackle and the residents are accused of drug use, fighting, and being general nuisances to neighbors. Many shoppers and storeowners on Beach 116th Street, just around the block, complain of derelicts and panhandlers many of whom reside on Beach 115th Street,.

150 Beach 115th Street 150 Beach 115th Street Another resident, who moved here five years ago, spoke of the daily struggles she endures by living on the troubled block. “Beach 115th Street is one of the worst streets. The landlords don’t give a damn about what’s happening," she went on, “They don’t care but they pretend they do. They never fix or paint anything,” she added.

One homeowner said, “They don’t care who they rent to. They just want their money.”

When asked about the state of the buildings on Beach 115th Street, Jack Safos, who runs the business with his father, said, “The year we came here, there were 36 arrests on the block. The next year there were three.

On a tour of the buildings, Safos said, “We’re don’t just come and collect the rent. We’re here six days a week. We have an overnight presence.”

Inside 150 Beach 115th Street. Inside 150 Beach 115th Street. Asked about the drug dealing and crime on the block, Safos said “We don’t tolerate drugs. We keep the drugs out. We keep it clean,” he said.

“We check for sex offenders. We don’t let them in here. And we do background checks.

“It’s an imperfect situation. We do what we can.”

A tour of the Safo’s property at 150 Beach 115th Street, built in 1910, showed relatively new stone tile hall floors, steel stairs and fireproof metal doors. The building was clean and also featured fire extinguishers and up to date emergency lights.

Safo said they had put major work into the property when they acquired it several years ago.

Residents, many of whom are elderly, and some displaced by the storm, for the most part mentioned it was a good place to live.

Safos also confirmed that each property has a locking metal front gate and only one key is issued per tenant. No dogs are allowed; cats are allowed but only if they are spayed.

By law, children under 16 are not allowed.

“What about that roof?” Safos was asked, when the structure’s multiple layered and colored covering was pointed out. He explained that all his family’s Rockaway properties were hit by Sandy.

“We waited for six months. Nothing came from FEMA, nothing came from SBA. We took out private loans,” he said, stating they would be working on the roof “soon.”

While acknowledging the problems on the block, Safos said things had improved since the hurricane shut down a half-way house for parolees and Norco Freedom, the group which provided housing and treatment for recovering addicts on Beach 116th Street.

“Since that placed closed, it’s gotten a lot better.”

As far as what is happening now to improve the block, he said, “It’s at a standstill. Nobody knows what they’re doing right now.”

In early 2013, according Safos, in the wake of the storm, the City arranged a meeting between SRO and commercial property owners on Beach 115th and 116th Streets and three investors interested in buying up their properties.

He commented that once people “got a whiff of money, they went wild with what they were asking.”

“Nothing came out of it. I believe they just heard these outrageous (asking amounts) and they just left it.”

He says the investors have not been heard from since.

About the problems residents complain about in the area? “I’m not saying there aren’t,” Safos said.

But he adds that pointing fingers is not going to help.

“What is their solution?” he asks.

“We had SRO meetings, years ago, with the precinct. What about a beat cop that knows the street, the people, and checks in on the buildings?”

The issue of crime and safety on Beach 115th Street had also been raised at the 100th Precinct Community Council meeting in September. Precinct commander Captain Craig Adelman confirmed that additional patrol coverage had been added and other initiatives in the works.

As for the future prospects for the area, Safos mentioned it’s still possible for investors to come in to take advantage of post-Sandy opportunities and develop mixed commercial and residential properties, like the Ocean Grande condominium on Beach 116th Street.

One resident of Beach 115th street was optimistic. Noting the positive developments on the commercial strip of Beach 116th Street, the resident said. “It looks like some of the momentum that was starting in Rockaway before the storm may be blossoming now.”

For now, though, residents, business owners, and some landlords and those concerned with the future of Rockaway, agree that Beach 115th Street is a problem.

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