Photo by Keith Stewart
Last week I made a few suggestions here for the hundreds of residents who, like me, are still unable to return to apartment buildings declared temporarily inhabitable by New York City, and who are underwhelmed, to say the least, by the information flow coming from building management. My post also contained some pointed suggestions for management about the type and frequency of communication displaced residents want and deserve.
A week later (two and a half weeks since the storm), I still can't go home to my studio apartment at 90 Washington Street, a 398-unit building located in the devastated Zone A of Manhattan. Myself and my neighbors are living in limbo and we are deeply dismayed by the continued poor quality of communication coming from our management and ownership.
Here are a few thoughts on how residents can continue to stay united and how management should be improving their handling of this terrible situation.
TO OUR MANAGEMENT (and any others for whom the shoe fits):
- Many of us have been begging to be allowed to break our leases. Instead of having a spokesman say you didn't even know about this, respond to our emails and allow us to break our lease without penalty if we want instead of waiting the full 30 days. The number one thing residents need to be able to do is move on with our lives and make longterm plans elsewhere. Don't ignore our requests and don't dance around the possibilites - be straight with us and provide us relief.
- Many residents have asked you if mold will be an issue from flooding and whether it will be safe to live in the building if we choose not to break our leases. Ease our concerns about this by letting us know if you've thought about this issue and what you're doing. With 4-5 feet of water (at least) that entered our building we're extremely worried about mold and mold spores and health complications that can result. We've asked about this and the question has been ignored. Please let us know immediately if this issue is being addressed and how.
- Could anything have been done on the building's end to prevent this mess? What's being done to prevent it in the future? Many of us have asked if any of this damage could have been prevented and if the building listened to the city's instructions. These questions haven't been answered at all. We need to know what's being done to make sure it doesn't happen in the future.
- Leadership of management and ownership - talk to us directly. In my last update I mentioned how amazing it felt when the CEO of our management company reached out to me via email and text saying she would try and help and asking me how many people are in our building. Ever since my previous blog post went up on BrickUnderground, my communications have not been answered, and comments from residents have been deleted from her Facebook page. Make sure if you start a conversation with a resident you continue it until the problem is solved; disappearing just makes it worse. So does deleting comments on social media.
- Don't start providing a timeline then stop providing a timeline - After we took collective action by forming a Google Group, tweeting, Facebooking and writing about our concerns constantly to management and ownership, a timeline was provided for a few days...and then it stopped. This made the problem even worse. Be honest about the timeline and give us as many details about the individuals working on the problems and when they will be working on them (specific times).
TO DISPLACED RESIDENTS EVERYWHERE:
- Grow your email list - Create a Google Group and invite everyone member of your building you can find. At our building our group is now over 100 and we've even launched a private Facebook group to compliment it.
- Meet in person to see how everyone's doing - This past weekend a handful of us met outside the building to check in, catch up about FEMA advice and experience and discuss what we want to do next to combat the building's frustrating communication and lack of answers. This short but important meeting for the 10 or so people that stopped by made us closer and made us see that since we were all going through the same thing it was a bit easier. We also learned very quickly how cryptic FEMA can be since we each seemed to have somewhat different experiences.
- Talk to people who care - The media is listening to us (including BrickUnderground, CurbedNY, DNA Info, Tribeca Tribune, Huffington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal) and we're uniting to talk to them to tell them how unhappy we are. After endless cries for an update on when the possibility of breaking our leases would be revisited, we finally saw somewhat of an answer when a spokesperson from the ownership was forced to comment on a DNA Info article.
- Continue to ask as many questions as possible - When you're at the building, find the ConEd people, find the contractors, find anyone working there. Demand answers, specific answers and ask about timelines. Communicate this information to your neighbors and figure out what's going on so you're not left in the dark (any more than we already are by the lack of electricity).
- Call FEMA every day for an update - In the last week alone at least 400 new FEMA contractors have descended upon Manhattan (that's what I heard from someone I bumped into from FEMA). Every seems to have a different experience and we can't figure out why 398 units worth of residents each have to schedule a meeting with a contractor. No one really understands what they'll be reimbursed for, when funds will show up in their account and what they're eligible for. My own FEMA rep was amazing - when I told him I was at work, he said - no problem I'll go in the building on my own. He took care of this for me, let me email him proof that I lived there and then drove to my office so I could sign his tablet. He told me I'll know something in 7-10 days. Others at our building have had to leave work to meet contractors, have been confused about applications and have grown worried that they might have filled something out wrong when they see neighbors in the exact same situation getting funds/help more quickly. As far as what kind of assistance renters are getting, I've heard many mixed things, from stays at pre-approved hotels, to direct deposits in the range of $2,000-$3,000, to opportunities for mailing in receipts for reimbursements. Make sure you're calling FEMA every day for a status on your app. Ask them as many questions as possible and make sure you're bank account info is in your app so they can deposit directly instead of mailing you a check.
Natan Edelsburg (http://twitter.com/twatan) is a Financial District resident working in Manhattan.