POUGHKEEPSIE–More than 60 percent of the apartments at the Rip Van Winkle House do not have heat or hot water, according to the head of a nonprofit Poughkeepsie organization.
Satara Brown, the founder and chief executive officer of Rebuilding Our Children and Community, Inc., said she has been at the complex since the weekend, meeting with residents and handing out blankets.
“We dropped off 150 blankets. I went into several apartments. I touched their heating systems. I touched the water. It’s not hot. Some do have it, but over 60 percent don’t have heat and hot water. They have space heaters, which is a fire hazard,” she said on Monday morning.
“I have no affiliation with this building. I’m not a politician. I have nothing to gain from this. There’s no reason for me to be untruthful.”
Angel Valderez, who lives on the third floor in the east wing, backs up Brown’s claim.
She said she has been without heat and hot water since she moved back on Thursday.
“We probably had warm water for about five minutes one day,” said the mother of four. “It was enough to do the dishes.”
Valderez said her children, who range in age from 2 to 13, are sick and she has had to move them into her room.
“We got a space heater from management on Sunday, and it’s a little bit better, but only in my room. It’s freezing cold in the rest of the apartment. I’ve been trying to keep them in warm clothes. We’re keeping our jackets on,” she said.
Hardships for the more than 300 residents began when they were displaced by an electrical fire on Oct. 30.
Those who live at the Section 8, 179-unit high-rise at 10 Rinaldi Boulevard were evacuated the day of the fire, which officials say originated in an underground electrical vault.
Following the fire, all power at the property was turned off so repairs could be completed, according to PK Management, the Ohio-based firm that runs the property.
Technicians and management teams from around the country were flown in to work “around the clock to repair the damage,” said Joyce Walker, PK Management’s vice president of community development.
A temporary shelter for displaced residents had been set up by the American Red Cross at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center.
PK Management later stepped in to pay for lodging and meals.
Those living in the west wing were permitted back on Nov. 4, while residents in the east wing were given the all-clear signal on Friday.
Ever since, problems have been rampant, Brown said.
“Maintenance was walking around on Saturday from 11 p.m. on with a clipboard, waking up people and asking them to sign a form, saying that they have heat. They’re low-income and at the mercy at the management. I told them not to sign it. They’re trying to cover themselves.”
Walker said nothing could be further from the truth.
“No one is being forced to sign anything, and there is absolutely no penalty if a tenant refuses to complete the survey,” she said.
“PK management has been completely transparent regarding this matter and has openly provided information and updates on this issue to the Poughkeepsie city officials and the residents of Rip Van Winkle.”
In a statement issued on Monday, Walker said the complex has experienced “intermittent issues and delayed service with its heating system.”
She noted that work is ongoing to “ensure full service of hot water and uninterrupted heat to all units.”
“At no time have any apartment units been completely without heat. If heat has been insufficient, portable heaters have been provided,” Walker said.
“During the repair process, it was determined that system replacements were necessary. Management is working to expedite the replacement of components necessary to restore permanent HVAC service to all units as soon as possible this week. In the meantime, HVAC teams are on site to ensure that the current system remains operable.”
Walker said throughout the process, communication with residents and city officials has been steady.
Valderez denies that.
“We’ve all been complaining and standing in the lobby. There are a lot of people who live here. PK Management is never around. They come in for an hour and just leave. We’ve been calling maintenance, but they say they have so many things to do and they can’t get to everything.
“They just keep telling us, ‘It will be on later,’ and we go back down, and they tell us, ‘We have to get a pipe.’ It’s always something new.”
Brown, meanwhile, is calling it “inconsistency.”
“I think if the individuals weren’t low-income this wouldn’t happen. People haven’t taken showers for days. Children are becoming ill,” she said.
Brown further claims many tenants are afraid to speak up.
“They’re scared they’re going to be evicted and be put out on the street,” she said.
Walker called Brown’s account a falsehood.
“Rumors such as these further take advantage of our residents by perpetuating fear and uncertainty in an already difficult situation,” she said.
Brown, however, stands by her statement and said word is getting out.
“Honestly, it’s on the management to fix this problem. I don’t think they have the funds to fix the issue. The building is running on one boiler system.
“Residents tell me many of the units didn’t have heat last winter. This time, more people are becoming aware of it,” she said.