Tenants say storied affordable housing company, SEBCO, has let them down
Shortly after midnight on Feb. 16, Angela Miranda-Centeno, urgently dialed 911 in order to help save her husband of 42 years, a cancer patient, who had been struggling to breathe.
When paramedics arrived, they had no choice but to carry 68-year-old Antonio Centeno down six flights of stairs in a wheelchair, which rendered them unable to administer oxygen until Centeno was safely on the ground floor.
The apartment building’s elevator was once again out of service, it’s been nearly a month since the elevator has worked.
“This started in November,” Miranda-Centeno, 78, said of her building’s elevator issues. “I make a complaint, I call the security, I call the office, I call everywhere,” she said, all to no avail.
The building, which is located at 864 Southern Blvd., is owned and managed by SEBCO Development Inc.
Multiple residents of the building claimed there was no communication from SEBCO about periodic problems with the elevator, and that fliers were posted only recently, when the elevator had stopped working entirely.
The first notice, which simply read, “Elevator out of service,” was taped to elevator doors on each floor in the building on either Feb. 19 or 20, according to Miranda-Centeno.
Calls to the management office, she said, haven’t offered any substantive information about when the issue will be resolved, or what alternative options would be made available to elderly residents who are physically unable to walk multiple flights of stairs.
After a week without any updates, a second flier was posted, this time with SEBCO’s letterhead, and it read, “Please be advised that the Elevator service has been interrupted due to the Fire Department damaging the door.”
The fire department, however, had no responsibility for the elevator outage, Miranda-Centeno, her son Antonio Centeno Jr. and her lifelong friend Millie Colon have all claimed. It was the three of them who called the fire department on Feb. 26, the day before the flier was dated, after they smelled smoke coming from an ajar elevator shaft just outside of Miranda-Centeno’s apartment.
“That’s not true,” Centeno Jr. said of the building’s memo. “The fire department never made it to the sixth floor.”
When the fire department responded to their call, Miranda-Centeno, Colon and Centeno Jr., who were all in the apartment at the time, claimed that building security intercepted the fire department on the third floor, after which they left the building.
The New York Fire Department did not respond in time for publication of this story.
When a third flier was posted this week, SEBCO blamed “a tenant” who filed a complaint with the Department of Buildings and stated, “we are now waiting for DOB to come out and inspect and authorize the elevator company to proceed with the assigned work.”
The DOB has denied that any work-stoppage orders were in place.
“There are currently no active DOB Stop Work Orders at the property, or anything else that the Department is doing to prevent the building owner and their elevator maintenance company from moving forward with the repairs,” the department stated in an email.
The DOB also stated that it responded to a public 311 complaint on March 3, and “upon our arrival to the scene, DOB issued a violation to the building owner for the nonworking elevator, and ordered the building owner to make the necessary repairs to return the device to safe working order.”
The department also stated that it had since received two additional 311 complaints about a nonworking elevator and that inspectors would be routed to the scene “in order to investigate these new complaints, and we may take additional enforcement actions if necessary.”
When SEBCO employee Gloria Allen was presented with the DOB’s contradictory comments in a phone call, she said she “has nothing to say” about the issue. Subsequent emails to SEBCO have gone unasnwered.
The fliers posted throughout the building were only available in English, despite the fact that many residents in the building speak Spanish.
SEBCO has also not provided any alternative measures for elderly or disabled residents who are physically burdened by multiple flights of stairs. Several of them have, instead, resorted to their own alternative measures.
Multiple residents, including Miranda-Centeno, have gone to the roof of the building in order to cross over and use the functioning elevator in the 862 Southern Blvd. building, which is connected to 864. Both of the buildings are owned and managed by SEBCO.
Both buildings receive subsidies from the federal government under the Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance program, which helps provide housing for low-income families and allows them to pay 30 percent of their income towards rent.
For Miranda-Centeno, who suffers from osteoporosis and has arthritis in both of her shoulders, not having a regularly functioning elevator means that daily errands, such as doing laundry and carrying groceries, have become practically impossible. It also meant that after her husband passed away, many close friends who wanted to offer their condolences were either unable to, or struggled to visit her sixth-floor apartment.
“I can’t go downstairs with two pails of dirty clothes, and I have a lot of clothes to wash because I don’t have [an] elevator for a long time,” Miranda-Centeno said. “How can I do it?”
When SEBCO caught wind of residents crossing over buildings via the roof, the company placed a round-the-clock security guard on the sixth floor to ensure residents could no longer use the roof, but still provided no alternative options for residents. Miranda-Centeno claimed security guards have threatened to write up residents, or possibly call police.
What a write-up entails is not clear, but Miranda-Centeno feared it could possibly be used as leverage by the management company when residents go through the rent recertification process.
Miranda-Centeno’s son, who grew up in the building and served as a member of Community Board 2 for nearly 20 years, said issues with the elevator have always existed. But in the past, he said, communication from management was stronger and breakdowns wouldn’t last as long.
SEBCO has a lengthy history in the South Bronx, one that Miranda-Centeno and her son mostly spoke fondly of. But new management, they said, has left them feeling neglected and without hope for future issues that may arise. Miranda-Centeno has dealt with other problems such as a lack of heat in her unit, as well as a lack of hot water in her bathroom.
Her son hopes that SEBCO, which helped lift the South Bronx out of the housing crisis of the 70s and 80s can once again make the needs of their residents a priority.
He said, “I would hope that the company that helped this community get back from the ashes will have a better legacy than what we have now.”
Following the publication of this story, the FDNY responded saying that they did not go to the building during February and there were no “calls or reports of elevator emergencies at 864/862 Southern Blvd,” calling into question whether FDNY’ broke the door, as SEBCO claimed. Millie Colon maintains that she called the department on Feb. 26, after smelling smoke from an elevator shaft on the sixth floor and that building security intercepted firefighters, who never made it to the sixth floor.