S-R-O Gotta Go

Beach 120th Street residents unite against threat of homeless housing

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Members of the Rockaway Park community came out to protest a Manhattanite’s plans to turn a rundown house into an SRO site. Photo by Ralph Mancini

Members of the Rockaway Park community came out to protest a Manhattanite’s plans to turn a rundown house into an SRO site. Photo by Ralph Mancini

Reports of a property owner’s designs on turning an abandoned home into a single-room residence on a block that prohibits multi-family dwellings — of 3 or more — has raised the ire of a growing number of Rockaway Park residents.

When Manhattan resident Mimi Fuhrman placed a winning bid of approximately $550,000 in a public auction to purchase a dilapidated 1-family home at 174 Beach 120th Street back in 2017, local homeowner John Karalis could only guess if the winning bidder would end up making the edifice a permanent residence or turn it into her summer home.

But what he later discovered was equal parts perplexing and disheartening.

“I don’t mind renovating it; I don’t want it to be a 12-room shelter,” said Karalis at The Wave’s recent visit to the outside of the 3-story structure in question.

According to applications unearthed by Karalis and Maureen Walsh of Walsh Properties, the current proprietor of the 40’ x 100’ lot is looking to gain approval from the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) for a Certificate of No Harassment (CNH).

The home at 174 Beach 120th Street once belonged to Casey Conners, who later died and the home illicitly fell into the hands of Donata Rea before it was auctioned off a few years later. Photo by Ralph Mancini

The home at 174 Beach 120th Street once belonged to Casey Conners, who later died and the home illicitly fell into the hands of Donata Rea before it was auctioned off a few years later. Photo by Ralph Mancini

The document — according to www1.nyc.gov — is what’s required by the NYC Department of Buildings before the buyer can attain a permit to alter, demolish or change the shape or layout of single room occupancy (SRO) dwelling.

Two of Fuhrman’s attempts to get the necessary approval were denied, with the city’s most recent objection occuring on May 15.

While the home was once an SRO, as per Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, it previously served as a summer facility. A year-round site, he states, won’t get the city’s endorsement.

When contacted by The Wave, Fuhrman — herself a city employee, who works as a senior lease negotiator for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) — insisted that her plans for the abandoned home are still in the preliminary stages. She further related that she has no intentions of doing anything that would compromise the safety of the neighborhood.

She claimed that she originally viewed her purchase as an opportunity to open a beachside bed-and-breakfast getaway given her educational background in hotel and restaurant management.

Those projections, however, were quickly dashed when the longtime real estate professional realized she couldn’t afford the expenses involved with being a homeowner of the 12-room residence.

“I’m working with somebody else who’s going to help me with the project. They’re going to own more of it than me of course. But I’m not relinquishing any say. I’m going to make sure things are nice,” said Fuhrman when asked about her partnership with Steven Kates, a noted landlord and real estate investor.

While Fuhrman wouldn’t disclose how much of a stake her associate owns in the house or how they split their expenses, she did come clean on her objective to help out some of her down-on their-luck friends by offering them rooms at the 174 Beach 120th Street location.

She spoke to The Wave about a former colleague with a “really good position,” who recently lost her job and was forced to sleep on Fuhrman’s couch as an example of the type of individuals she would welcome into her house once it’s renovated.

Another person she would be looking to move in is a homeless veteran who reportedly wasn’t allowed to sleep in a city shelter because of the man’s refusal to part ways with his dog.

“So, I kind of said to myself that it would be nice to help people who are working and who need a place,” added Fuhrman, who promised that the homeless vet she encountered would be exception and not the rule when selecting the occupants of her SRO setup.

“How it turned into every single person being a vet and taking every homeless person off the street is beyond me. I want to keep one [room] for myself, so I wasn’t going to have anyone living there who wasn’t right.”

Neighboring homeowners weren’t buying the Manhattanite’s benevolence, including Rockaway Civic Association Vice President Bobby Zimmer, who believes Fuhrman made a “backdoor deal” with the city’s “higher ups” in targeting the property as a cash cow before it became available.

Karalis shared some of the same misgivings by calling the integrity of her partner (Kates) into question. The 9th-year Beach 121st Street resident recognized the co-investor as a “slumlord,” and pointed to online reports that identify the man as a “scam artist.” Attempts by The Wave to contact Kates were unsuccessful due to his listed phone number not accepting messages.

Karalis, Walsh and others on the block are left wondering why the New Jersey native couldn’t simply repair the home and rent it to reputable working tenants.

It was noted that she may be losing out on an exorbitant amount of additional income if she opted to go the traditional route. Under the SRO model, the city could reportedly furinish each SRO occupant with upwards of $3,200 that would logically end up straight in the pockets of the ownership team.

Moreover, Karalis believes that Fuhrman isn’t only motivated by greed, but also by fear due to financial hardship, as he revealed that she approached him in 2018 to gauge his interest in buying the property from her.

“She said, ‘I’m looking to make 100 grand more than what I paid.’ I said that I would look into it for her and maybe find someone who could buy it. I actually texted her as early as last month with someone interested in buying it and she told me that it’s in contract,” he explained.

Meanwhile Michelle Luhrs and Stephanie Perez shared their unease with the types of individuals who could be making their way into Rockaway Park if Fuhrman gets the city to sign off on her next CNH application.

“My concern is a lot of those people that are homeless, they have mental issues. If you put them here, they have no access to mental health services. St. John’s [Episcopal Hospital] has a great mental health program, but they’re not going to get on a bus to go to St. John’s. And if they’re veterans, they should go to a VA hospital,” said Luhrs, a Beach 120th resident since 2013.

Perez, on the other hand, harbors fears for her autistic child, whose innocence and trusting disposition make him vulnerable to nefarious members of society.

“Where are these people going to go all day?” asked Simon. “I get nervous when they say they they’re going to leave during the day. I smell a rotten stinkin’ rat.”

When asked about possible solutions that would eliminate the threat of an SRO entering the community, Karalis offered one possible strategy of multiple stakeholders joining forces to raise enough funds to entice Fuhrman to sell the property to them. In turn, the local homeowners would look for a more suitable buyer.

Another idea posited by Luhrs was demolishing the mold-infested residence that was last occupied in 2011 and make it a parking lot for locals who must continually contend with a paucity of spaces.

Whether Fuhrman and her neighbors ultimately reconcile and come to a meeting of the minds is anyone’s guess at this point.

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