Far From Normal: Peter Cooper Village Residents Still Struggling

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PETER COOPER VILLAGE RESIDENTS STRUGGLE WITH NO GAS, ELECTRICAL PROBLEMS AND FLOODED BASEMENTS While most of Manhattan's East Side neighborhoods have overcome Hurricane Sandy's damages, some areas are still trying to catch up. Peter Cooper Village, particularly, is in an ongoing struggle to restore basic services to some of its buildings, like gas and intercoms, after the storm's record-breaking surge flooded the complex's basements. Management there is orchestrating a frenzy of repairs, which are moving things forward but displeasing many village residents. "What I don't like is all this secrecy," said Arthur Wolf, an elderly tenant who sat on a bench in the middle of the iconic red brick private housing community. "They tell us only what they want to tell us. What's all this stuff?" He gestured to the growling portable generators and patchwork of yellow tubing scattered between the buildings around him. Workers with wheelbarrows appeared out of a below-ground door and carted piles of debris to East 20th Street. During the storm, the basements of Peter Cooper Village's buildings, located between East 23th and 20th Streets and First Avenue and Avenue C, took on up to 6 feet of water. A lot remains to be cleaned up. "Nobody will tell what all this is, exactly, and how long it will go on," added Marcia Robinson, a tenant who sat with Wolf. Lax communication from the owner of the complex, CW Capital, has upset a number of tenants. Many rented personal storage space in the buildings' basements, where they stored items such as clothes, decorations, memorabilia, documents and even paintings. After the flooding, residents were eager to assess the damage to their belongings underground, but at first were not allowed to enter the basements because of safety concerns. Then, according to Susan Steinberg, chair of the board of directors of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association (Stuyvesant Town, the village's next-door sister development, was not heavily damaged in the storm because its buildings do not have underground storage), residents received a notification shortly before Thanksgiving that they had until Nov. 30 to retrieve their things. After that date, everything remaining in the storage areas would be discarded. "CW just wants to steamroll ahead," Steinberg said. "Some tenants needed more time. They couldn't sort through their things in just one trip." When the residents arrived to rummage through the remains of their possessions, they were required to sign a waiver that relieved management and its affiliates from blame if they were injured. This document forced many residents to second-guess the need to salvage their items. What exactly was in these basements that was so dangerous? "We were getting messages left, right and center," said Steinberg. "There was a lot of anger, a lot of frustration." Following complaints, CW extended retrieval dates by five days, and agreed to transfer the flooded belongings of those who could not visit the basements to an above-ground drop-off point. According to Steinberg, those who already signed waivers were not allowed to revisit their storage areas. Flooding also damaged basement electrical systems and gas pumps, shorting intercom circuits and leaving some tenants still without heat. Workers now must check gas valves in each of the complex's thousands of units, and sometimes have to drill locks to enter. They reportedly have caught at least one resident in the shower while entering apartments. City Council Member Dan Garodnick is a Peter Cooper Village resident, and he affirmed that life was still far from normal for many tenants. "We hear about people who still have their gas out, who still can't access their basements, who have no washers and dryers, who lost their cars in garages, whose intercoms don't work," he said. He noted that his own intercom and washer-dryer were inoperable. Garodnick expressed grief that some tenants' approval of the property manager had declined after what he said was a highly cooperative recovery effort in the storm's immediate aftermath. With the Tenants Association's and CW's help, Garodnick organized a large-scale volunteer emergency response that checked in with every tenant in the complex to address their needs. Steinberg called the effort "fantastic" and affirmed CW's involvement. "We worked hand in hand with management during the crisis. We were very happy to do so," Garodnick said. "That level of collaboration has changed, unfortunately. There's much less communication, much less information being shared." In Steinberg's words, things returned to "business as usual." Both she and Garodnick said they were not certain why this was, but Steinberg speculated that CW's desire to return buildings to normal trumped their interest in responding to tenants. CW themselves-via their office, Peter Cooper Village Residential Services and public relations firm-could not be reached for comment on their relationship with tenants, and did not respond to messages before press time. On the village's website, www.pcvst.com, management has a "Post-Storm Updates" in which posts over the past month detail repair progress. CW Capital Managing Director Andrew MacArthur posted there shortly after the storm, "While this last week has been extraordinarily trying, it also highlighted all that is special about our community. Our younger residents kept careful watch over their elderly neighbors and our elderly residents provided us all with an example of how to overcome adversity with good humor and fortitude. Our political figures pitched in, and the various resident groups have done their part. Finally, our staff has demonstrated a commitment to this community that is extraordinary. During this last week, PCVST showed what it means to be part of a community you should all be proud to call home." John Marsh, president of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, acknowledged issues in communication between CW and tenants, but asserted that overall the property manager was doing a good job with repairs, given the scope of the damages. "They're dealing with it very aggressively, and we know it's tough," he said. Marsh toured some of the basements shortly after the hurricane, and was one of the first to see the extent of what was lost. "It was pretty devastating," he explained. "Piles of rubble, water lines above your head, glass smashed-it looked like a fire without the fire." Garodnick recently reached out to city agencies for assistance in making sure that there are no lingering safety issues in the buildings' basements. By his request, workers from the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development have begun daily inspections of the complex's damaged properties. "We will make it through this," he said.

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