By Sarina Trangle
Standing before a Neponsit doorway plastered with government health notices and a boarded-up window, state Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Beach) outlined last week a three-pronged approach to combating the abandonment of properties damaged during Superstorm Sandy.
Goldfeder’s vision involves passing state legislation that would charge banks with maintaining properties on which they have not received mortgage payments for at least three months. He also called for the city to fast track a bill authorizing government agencies to enter abandoned homes to secure the structures and remove mold and toxins.
The final element of his proposal would create a registry of unoccupied homes so the Police Department can check that the buildings do not attract squatters or illicit activity.
The assemblyman waved a list of roughly 60 properties he said were left vacant after Hurricane Sandy swept through the Rockaway Peninsula, Howard Beach and South Ozone Park in October 2012.
But he honed in on a two-story home, at 145-08 Neponsit Ave., where Goldfeder said HSBC has again victimized those battered by Sandy.
“Every one of these families you see around me, all got destroyed, all got damaged, all lost generations of memories. Yet they picked themselves back up,” Goldfeder said. “Yet banks like HSBC and so many others … have abandoned their responsibility to the community.”
He handed out an environmental analysis showing that mold festering in the home has led to elevated levels of fungal spores in a neighboring home.
Joyce Zoller, a cancer survivor who lives beside the house, said the containments had irritated her eyes and belabored her breathing.
“I am forced to leave my home,” Zoller said of her upcoming move.
“It’s very overwhelming for me to deal with this every day,” she said, breaking into tears.
Another neighbor, Sherry Calamia, said her family just finished rebuilding from Sandy, but her asthma continued to require daily steroid medication and her children also suffered from health problems.
Danny Ruscillo Jr., president of the 100th Precinct Community Council, displayed bottles of the antibiotic Levaquin and the steroid prednisone, which he said were a common prescription on the peninsula after Sandy led to the so-called “Rockaway cough.”
When asked about property upkeep, the bank said in an e-mail that “HSBC is working to resolve the matter.”
Goldfeder said the inaction in Neponsit underscored the importance of state legislation requiring remediation work to begin after three months of missed mortgage payments. Under the measure, such properties would also be entered into a registry of vacant properties overseen by the state attorney general.
It was unclear whether the legislation would be taken up before the state legislative session concluded June 19.
The assemblyman pointed to notices on the front door of the property and said a pending city bill would give the city Departments of Buildings and Housing jurisdiction to enter into structures where Sandy repairs have gone neglected, complete necessary work and bill the owner.
Finally, Goldfeder said he was awaiting a response from NYPD Commissioner William Bratton after e-mailing him to suggest he start a registry of abandoned properties and dispatch officers to periodically examine them.
“In Howard Beach, in Ozone Park, we have seen a proliferation of houses that are now being squatted in and becoming a den for criminal activity,” he said. “We’ve got to put an end to it before it starts.”
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.