Fumes, Dust, Noise Rattle Residents at Former Mitchell-Lama Building Under New Management
Renovation of an Upper West Side apartment building is the cause of disputes between longtime residents and new ownership.
Residents of what was constructed as a middle-income apartment building on the Upper West Side are crying foul at new owners as they renovate the housing tower for wealthier future tenants.
THE CITY talked with several residents at Glenn Gardens, at 175 W. 87th St., who said that the reconstruction of the building’s facade — and the noise that accompanies it — are wreaking havoc on their mental and physical well-being.
Residents at the property, built in 1975 under the state’s Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program, have complained of persistent loud noise due to construction, dust accumulation, lack of airflow and proper ventilation inside apartments, and fumes coming from construction, they told THE CITY.
A&E Real Estate Holdings purchased the property for $220 million in late 2018, after its previous owner had exited the affordable housing program, the Commercial Observer reported at the time.
Longtime Glenn Gardens resident Jan Kraus believes that this is “renoviction at work” — making a building inconvenient enough through renovations that longtime residents are forced to move so that owners can charge more rent to the next tenant.
“The noise has been excruciating for anyone at home during the day and there has been no awareness of the increased number of us working at home,” she said. “The building structure is concrete and steel, so the noise reverberates for at least 10 to 15 floors above and below where actual work is taking place.”
Kraus said that the windows and metal installed in her bedroom on the 26th floor block her air conditioning unit from performing its task. Instead, cold air goes down the shaft created by the space between the new and old windows being installed in the building, keeping heat inside.
A spokeperson for A&E, Wiley Norvell, said that the owner has been working with residents to resolve the AC challenges and is in regular communication with them. “A&E has strongly recommended anyone declining interior wall work enable management to reposition their AC unit to ensure full operation,” said Norvell. “This is a small project requiring a day of work to move the AC unit several inches to better align with new exterior openings.”
A&E Senior Property Manager Louis Cutri called the accusation that the landlord is neglecting longtime tenants as they make the upgrades nonsense.
“This is just categorically false. We respond to any request for in-unit repairs within 24 hours, and we know from firsthand interactions that these views don’t represent the vast majority of residents in the building,” Cutri said in an email to THE CITY. “Across our properties, our business is built on keeping tenants in their homes and ensuring working-class and middle-class New Yorkers have quality housing they can afford.”
Tuck Milligan, who co-chairs the Renovations Committee for the Tenants Alliance of Glenn Gardens, said that A&E changed its tune once THE CITY contacted them Thursday to address issues about the renovation.
A&E has now promised tenants that they will be given accommodations while the demolition of interior walls takes place. That demand was one of 11 sent to the company by tenants in a letter, Milligan said.
Residents had planned a rally for August 13 with local City Councilmember Gale Brewer’s district office and distributed fliers to tenants promoting the rally.
Soon after, A&E officials wrote a letter to tenants saying that the rally was unnecessary since they’re done with work on the facade and that the worst was over.
“We are pleased to inform all residents that as of Friday, August 5th all demolition and waterproofing work was completed at the property,” the letter read. “While we, unfortunately, recognize that the construction at the building can be inherently disruptive, the next phase of the project should result in far less noise.”
Mulligan called A&E’s actions “the typical placating we’ve received from the beginning.” But he acknowledged it’s a step in the right direction.
After canceling this weekend’s rally, Milligan said “We are cautiously optimistic.”
A&E “originally announced to us that this was to be a two-week process where tenants were expected to continue living in their apartments while (the) work crew marched in and out for two weeks. They claim they narrow it down to five days,” said Milligan. “We’ll see, but this is a beginning.”
‘Trying to Turn the Building’
Glenn Gardens, which opened in 1974, started out as a Mitchell-Lama building, part of the 1950s-era housing program designed for owners to provide New Yorkers with low-cost to middle-income housing for at least 20 years. After almost three decades, the landlord of Glenn Gardens bought out of the program in the mid-1990s. Those who didn’t have incomes low enough to qualify for Section 8 subsidy were offered rent-regulated leases.
About one-third of tenants are now there with the help of Section 8, while the rest of the apartments rent at market rate.
The complex includes a 32-floor apartment tower along with a five-story walk-up and a parking garage. It marked the first time the property had changed owners since it first opened.
Tony Riccardi, co-chair of the tenants’ renovation committee, said Glenn Gardens isn’t designed for “luxury.”
“They’re putting quality material, good high-end appliances,” he said. “They’re premium. So, you know it feels like they’re trying to turn the building into something it was never intended to be.”
In a letter addressed to Mulligan and Riccardi, A&E officials refuted the claim that the “warranty of habitability for residence has been violated by construction.” The company spokesperson states that they have dealt with the dust and noise issues in the proper manner. They claim to have used vacuums and water sprayers for dust mitigation, used sound blankets when possible and muffled drilling equipment. If none of that worked, A&E recommended requesting foam earplugs, available for all residents at the front lobby desk.
Management said that it expects to have all renovations finished by early 2023 and assured residents that the worst is over.
A&E put up artist renderings of what the building will look like once renovations were completed. One that showed the outside of the building had cars in the street with European license plates. Kraus, Milligan, and Riccardi found them ridiculous. Kraus claimed that A&E officials spoke to them in Trump-speak.
“Oh, it’s gonna be beautiful,” A&E officials allegedly told Kraus. “You’re gonna love it.”