On a cold January day, the wind funnels down Creston Avenue in the Morris Heights neighborhood of South Bronx like a river through a canyon. Buildings seem slightly closer to the street here, and the tall towers loom over the narrow street and sidewalk. A couple of teenage girls walk down the street, laughing and shoving each other.
Some new construction gleams incongruently on one side of the street, but most of the other buildings on this block are much older, with a foregone elegance still barely visible in the stonework and tiles.
Yet inside these buildings residents complain of deteriorating living conditions. On a survey tenant after tenant writes of mice and cockroach infestations, peeling paint, broken toilets, inconsistent heat and hot water, and a front door with no lock. “The hallways smell like urine” writes one.
Tenant Johannie Burdier says the building was poorly maintained, dirty, and sometimes simply scary. She tells of a former building manager who, she says, took money from people in exchange for access to sell drugs from inside the building. A resident for seven years, Burdier lives in the building with her aunt and her eleven year old daughter. She says for much of her time there they were lucky if there was heat or hot water in the apartment.
Another resident, who works the night shift, writes that they were frequently robbed in the unlocked building entrance. “Always, always, always, they assault us and take our money and our things in the doorway. Why?” asks the tenant, writing in Spanish, “Why is there no lock on the door or security camera?”
These complaints are more than an inconvenience. Constant anxiety, prolonged exposure to molds, unchecked vermin and inadequate heat and hot water – all these things make people sick. The vast majority of people living in failed buildings are low-income and uninsured. When they get sick, they go to the hospital. And the city is left holding the bill.