SHAFT Readies For Battle With ALMA

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 The residents of the Surfside buildings are ready to pull out all the punches against ALMA Realty. In response to reports that ALMA is planning to build even more residential buildings on top of the site of three current buildings between Beach 105th and Beach 108th Street, Surfside residents are getting ready for yet another battle in a series of many ongoing ones.

No formal plan has yet been laid out, but members of SHAFT, the tenant association for the Surfside Housing buildings overseen by ALMA Realty, are ready to take on yet another fight after hearing ALMA would be presenting a proposal in the near future to build upon the land’s parking lots and pool area. A rendering discovered this summer showing new large residential buildings, retail space and even a hotel, have also been making the rounds. Now SHAFT is trying to get ahead of any possible plan, knowing all too well that these potential plans are likely more than just rumors. After all, it is something ALMA tried to propose in 2014, but facing heavy pushback with more than 200 people coming out to fight against it at a Community Board meeting, ALMA seemingly put the plan to rest. But now they’re allegedly attempting it again.

On Tuesday, January 4, in a virtual meeting, tenants met to discuss the potential plans and issues they have been dealing with for years in the existing buildings. “Our mission for tonight is to primarily get you fired up to stop ALMA from building in our backyard. And the reason you should be fighting is because he’s not even taking care of the three buildings he currently has, which bring us to all of the complaints and 14 health and safety issues that you reported on at our town hall meeting back in 2018,” SHAFT leader Barbara Buffolino said. “We’ve been at this a long, long time.”

That led into a discussion with tenants sharing the issues they’ve been dealing with over the years. In the meeting, a slide was shared listing the 14 concerns brought up in October 2018. Of these issues, only four have been resolved. The rest are ongoing and were mentioned by several tenants on Tuesday.

As one tenant put it, “I don’t think that ALMA deserves to put more people at risk by building more buildings, nor continue to have us at risk for safety and health hazards that they have refused to address or are incapable of addressing. The staff onsite do their best, but the owner keeps them understaffed and under-resourced.” 

She went on to discuss ongoing sanitation issues in the building’s trash rooms, which has led to infestations of rats and roaches on some floors. At some point, the tenants even banded together to create recommendations for how the trash rooms can be better set up, including proper bins and signage, but as the tenant explained, “We haven’t seen the changes that the ALMA executive rep agreed to months ago. We busted our butts to make it easy for ALMA to do the right thing and look what’s come of it.”

The tenant also reminded the group that Efstathios Valiotis, the head of ALMA Realty, has made NYC’s Worst Landlord list on several occasions. “We’re people who work hard and don’t like to complain but this is a habit, and for him to build more here, what is he going to create? We’re going to be the old dumpy buildings with no capital improvement and elevators that don’t work while there are going to be shiny new residences for new people to come in?” they said.

Other tenants proceeded to share other ongoing issues. Some mentioned the lack of maintenance staff to address current problems. “You have like one guy here trying to do one entire building,” one said. Another suggested holding a rent strike to get ALMA’s attention. Others responded it has been tried in the past, but ALMA began threatening tenants with evictions and court orders.

Some brought up security issues, including a newer tenant who pointed out that one of the security guards for their building is often caught sleeping. Another tenant said that security guard was also accused of following female tenants to their apartments. “He’s been reported numerous times and he was shuffled to another building and then back at 105 a few weeks later,” they said. Additionally, many tenants pointed out that the doors and gates to the buildings are often unsecure and left open, allowing for anyone to enter the properties.

Others brought up constant issues with the elevators. One shared that they were recently stuck in an elevator and security was unable to call 911 because they didn’t have phone service. Another resident mentioned how an elevator was recently stopping six inches above the lobby floor, causing people to jump down to exit.

Many also mentioned heat issues. “It’s so irregulated. Some days you’re melting and other days my mother lives with the electric heater on. I’ve called the office, called maintenance and even made 311 complaints and the next day, the manager called me asking why I called 311 instead of texting maintenance,” one tenant said.  “It’s annoying we have to call constantly to ask them to put on the heat. Why do you think you should build more properties when you can’t even properly heat the place you have?”

Some tenants asked if there was any written proposal regarding the new buildings. Barbara Buffolino said, “Right now there’s no firm proposal. We were gearing up because we were told ALMA would be presenting at the community board meeting on January 11.” ALMA is currently not scheduled to present anything at the upcoming meeting, but SHAFT expects something coming down the pipeline. “We’re working off a rendering that was floating around but let’s not get fooled,” Buffolino said. “I really think part of this may have been to see what we were willing to accept so their proposal could satisfy that. But no proposal should be acceptable.”

Another added that the proposal goes beyond rumor. “This is not hypothetical,” they said. “I have seen and read a proposal that had the name of Donovan Richards on it. This is floating around. There’s nothing formal but they got their ducks in a row. ALMA is acting with a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm who is going to fundraisers for local officials here. It feels like they’re building something behind the scenes, and it would be smart for us to be prepared.”

Part of that getting ahead is holding meetings such as Tuesday’s. The tenants also spoke of starting petitions, meeting with local civics, sending letters to local elected officials and signing up for public speaking at the upcoming Community Board meeting to let them know about the ongoing issues. SHAFT has also had discussions with new Councilwoman Joann Ariola, who has expressed concern over the issues and pending proposal. They will also do additional community outreach in hopes of gaining support from the community as a whole, as this proposal will have effects beyond Surfside. “We’re here for the beach and they’re making a Manhattan out of us,” one tenant said.

No matter what ALMA may propose, SHAFT is ready to take it on. As one tenant said, “We can do this with the support of our neighbors in the larger Rockaway community.”

 By Katie McFadden

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