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News from the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association

Continuing The Battle Against Abandoned Homes

Two weeks ago, in our last column for this newspaper, we argued that abandoned houses, though not widespread in Woodhaven, are still a significant problem.

We described how they are a clear threat to Woodhaven’s safety, having served last year as the location of an illegal party that led to the beating death of an innocent teenager, as well as the source of a fire that caused damage to an occupied house next door.

At our monthly town hall on Saturday, Sept. 15, we learned more about the problem of illegal houses in Woodhaven.

P.O. Jose Severino of the 102nd Precinct’s Community Affairs division focused on the abandoned residence at 87-19 90th St., the location of the fatal house party hosted by squatters. He said the address is “an ongoing issue.”

Members of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Assocation (WRBA) welcomed (back row, from left to right) City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, Assemblyman Mike Miller and State Sen. Joseph Addabbo to their Sept. 15 meeting at the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Pictured seated in the foreground (from left to right) are WRBA members Steve Forte, Vice President Janet Chan-Smith, President Ed Wendell, Communications Director Alexander Blenkinsopp and civic member Maria Thomson.

“It’s not new to us. We’ve always known it was a trouble area,” Officer Severino said.

So why has the address remained an issue for so long?

According to Severino, it’s because the house has been a foreclosed property for nearly four years. As a result, he said, whenever anyone is arrested for trespassing on the property, the bank that now owns the house must sign an affidavit before charges can be pressed.

Apparently, the banks that own foreclosed properties in the area are often located far away and are unwilling to sign the affidavit to ensure that the NYPD can keep those houses free of trespassers.

“Obviously, it’s the banks’ fault,” Severino said, adding that neighbors are doing themselves no favors if they allow a nearby house to fall into disrepair without making the slightest effort to clean up the property.

Fortunately, two of Woodhaven’s local elected officials who were at our town hall—Assemblyman Mike Miller and State Sen. Joseph Addabbo —directly addressed the role of foreclosures in the problem of vacant houses in Woodhaven.

Assemblyman Miller said he will work on finding contact persons at the relevant banks so that the NYPD can get someone to sign affidavits to prosecute trespassers. Miller said he’ll also call the Queens District Attorney’s office to try to get to the bottom of this problem.

Senator Addabbo underscored the need for the community to work with the banks. He said the problem of foreclosures is one that knows no boundaries and afflicts a wide array of communities.

If you and I neglected our properties to such a degree that we enabled a brutal killing or a dangerous fire to occur, we should—and probably would—be held responsible.

It’s not right that financial institutions can do those same things without being held accountable. And it’s not right that their inaccessibility to the community—their distance, or their unwillingness to work with the local police precinct—can cause the properties they own to become severe problems to our safety and quality of life.

I recently spoke with neighbors of the vacant house on 90th Street. It is simply inexcusable what these residents have to put up with. The house’s backyard is a dumping ground, and the neighbors have had to suffer loud parties, drug users, and an eyesore next door.

The WRBA is working hard to combat the problem of vacant homes, and we’re pleased our recent town hall served as a forum to discuss some of the root causes. Now we hope to help our elected officials in their effort to ensure that all homeowners, including financial institutions, cooperate with the NYPD in safeguarding vacant houses.

In the meantime, we ask residents to keep an eye on nearby properties, and to contact the WRBA if they know of a residence that is vacant and could become a trouble spot.

Editor’s note: Blenkinsopp is a member of Community Board 9 and director of communications for the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association. For more information on the WRBA, visit www.woodhaven-nyc.org.

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