889 Broadway in Bushwick, where tenants were evicted last week without warning. — Photo by Jeremy Sapienza
A year after moving into 889 Broadway, Shawn Gallagher has found himself sleeping on a friend’s couch and bitter. He is one of many tenants who were abruptly evicted from their dwellings by the Department of Buildings on Thursday, August 6 after the building was cited with numerous housing violations.
Now Gallagher spends his days impatiently waiting to move back in and worrying about the belongings he was forced to leave behind.
“I edit films so I have a lot of audio equipment that’s sitting in my apartment, just waiting to get stolen,” Gallagher said. “I also have a fridge full of perishables and a bunch of plants that are dying. Worst of all, it’s hard not having a bed to sleep on… I just want my life to get back to normal.”
Though 889 Broadway has been a 15-unit residential property for more than 10 years, the trouble started two weeks ago when fire marshals found several fire code violations during a routine inspection. Building managers promptly began installing fire doors in the hallways, but were interrupted several days later when DOB officials arrived to issue vacate orders, saying the commercial building was illegally converted into apartments and lacked a sprinkler system.
Eric Cohen, a resident of 889 Broadway for three years, had taken a sick day from work the day the building was vacated and said DOB officials, followed by a group of police officers, went door to door to inform tenants they had to leave within three hours. It was about 9 a.m. and many residents had already left for work so officials simply padlocked their doors – locking some of their pets inside. Cohen was able to grab his most-needed possessions and bring them to his girlfriend’s place a few blocks away where he has been riding out the bureaucracy storm.
“I turned out a little luckier than others,” Cohen said, but he remains surprised by the DOB’s actions.
“This building was not your cliché trashy Bushwick hipster loft building,” Cohen added. “We had real working professionals in there and it was a nice place to live.”
Since the vacate order, VJ Holdings, the building’s management company, has been working non-stop with the DOB to correct faulty paperwork and bring 889 Broadway up to code, said a VJ Holdings manager who would like to remain anonymous. The company, which acquired the building in 1998, denies any prior knowledge of the cited violations and wants to move tenants back in as soon as possible.
“The DOB gave us no warning that this was going to happen,” said the manager. “What they did to the tenants was ridiculous. Especially considering how many people live in much worse housing conditions in this city.”
Building management has kept stranded tenants informed through daily emails and updates via Twitter. The most recent developments imply that residents will be homeless for at least another week or two since the DOB will not let anyone inhabit the building until a sprinkler system is installed in every unit. The management hopes tenants will be able to move back in once the sprinklers are active, but at this time, there is no way to know for sure.
“Technically, they can hold the tenants hostage until we install a new water main for the building,” said the manager. “It could take anywhere between a week and more than a month to get people back in their homes depending on what the DOB decides.”
As the DOB and VJ Holdings sort through mountains of paperwork, 889 Broadway residents have been making it any way possible as they wait to move back in. Cohen said the Red Cross was able to find temporary housing for about nine tenants and most others are staying with friends, lovers, or family. In attempt to offset the inconvenience, management has offered tenants $100 a day to cover lodging expenses during the fiasco.
Meanwhile, Gallagher has been contacting city council members and bringing tenants together to help speed up the process and get everyone back in their apartments. The situation has been frustrating for him and he can’t help but wonder if something else is going on behind the scenes — a grudge, a personal revenge plot?
Every night, he lies down on his friend’s lumpy couch and ponders the absurdity of it all.
“Yes, the landlords are at fault for allowing these conditions to exist, but there was no reason why the DOB couldn’t have talked to the landlords first and maybe come up with some kind of resolution without kicking innocent people out on the streets like that,” Gallagher said.
“I’m very mad at the city right now,” he added.