It isn’t the ceiling leaks that have damaged dozens of residents’ carpets, furniture and clothing that rile the tenants most at Norgate Plaza.
Nor is it the roaches and water bugs the leaks attract.
Residents at Norgate Plaza, located at 390 Nostrand Avenue (and Gates Avenue), also express among themselves concern over the loose security. The doorman for the building of 314 units, they say, averts confrontation with outsiders by letting in anyone, including vagrant visitors who leave urine, vomit and other human excrement in the building’s stairwells and elevators.
Still, those things are not what upset the tenants most.
What really really bothers them about their building is the overall environment-- an environment filled with fear. The tenants are afraid of the management.
“The residents here are so afraid to speak up… so afraid,” Alejandra Cuevas said in Spanish shaking her head. “The manager uses fear to intimidate us, control us; he has no respect for us and then punishes us if we call the management office to complain by not helping us with problems or finding something wrong with your lease. And no one here wants to lose their apartment.”
Norgate Plaza is a privately owned building occupied mostly by Section 8 tenants who receive rental assistance through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The property’s manager, Essex Plaza Management Associates, is headquartered in Newark, NJ. And it has two Brooklyn offices, one in Brownsville and another in Bushwick.
HUD gives Norgate Plaza an inspection score of 59.93 out of 100, far below the citywide average of 82.09 for all section 8 housing.
But as deplorable as the conditions may be, the majority of the tenants keeps its mouth shut. The waiting list for both federal and NYCHA housing averages upwards ten years. And since Norgate’s inception, a significant number of the building’s tenants have arrived at 390 Nostrand from homeless shelters.
And so for them, in the current economic environment, the distance between having an apartment and becoming homeless is the width of a hairline fracture. And none of them are in any rush to lose their apartments.
The building's manager, who the tenants refer to as Mr. Nixon, knows this. And according to 34-year-old Diane DMeza, who grew up in the building, he waves this fear over the tenants’ heads like a red flag.
“He plays around with tenant leases and abuses the wait list. The tenants who already live here are supposed to have priority when an apartment opens up,” said DMeza. “People grow up, families get bigger or smaller, and so they apply to move into another size apartment. But hardly any of us who have been here for years are given a chance to move. Instead, you see new tenants coming into the building all of the time.”
DMeza, who lives with her mother, said she’s been asking management for the last ten years to be considered when an apartment opens. But all she has ever gotten is the runaround.
So she asked Essex Management if, while she waits for an answer on her own apartment, she can at least be put on her mother’s lease. But DMeza said management refused. They told her that she will not be eligible for her own apartment if she is on her mother’s lease, and technically, she's not allowed to stay in her mother's apartment, if she is not on the lease.
Norgate tenant Sheila Black ended up in court with Essex five years ago when they refused to put her newborn daughter on her lease. She said, the superintendant provided Black a list of excuses why they couldn’t add her daughter to the lease, ranging from problems in the birth certificate to a missing social security card.
She said for six months, she was in and out of court, and for six months, Essex never even showed. When the case finally went to trial, Black found out that none of the stipulations Essex gave denying her daughter a place on the lease were valid. She won the case, but after that, life just got worse for her in the apartment and her relationship with the super deteriorated further.
“Mr. Nixon thinks he owns the building, and you cannot talk to him,” said Black. “He’s very nasty the way he talks to us and treats us like we’re garbage, like we’re bothering him.”
“We had a problem with mice really bad when my daughter was one years old, and the management was doing nothing to really help,” said Black. “I knew I would have to start speaking up when one day I walked into the bedroom and saw her playing with something on the floor. I went to look, and it was a dead mouse.
“He just ignores us like we don’t matter. But who I really blame is management, because they’ve gotten enough complaints from tenants about this man. But nothing ever happens; he keeps his job.”
Bed-Stuy Patch visited the Bushwick office of Essex Management to inquire about Norgate’s wait list, lease policies and the complaints lodged against the building’s manager, Mr. Nixon Chanoine, who was out of the office for 18 days.
Mattie James, regional manager at Essex Management and Mr. Nixon's supervisor, said she was not at liberty to discuss Norgate’s tenant issues. “If [the tenants] have issues, then I’m not aware of them. We have a protocol, and if they have problems they can come to me. So I’m not at liberty to discuss anything.”
When asked about whether she had received any complaints from Norgate’s tenants about Mr. Nixon and his treatment of the building’s residents, James said, “I don’t have a comment," and then walked away.
So Cuevas, DMeza and Black decided to finally arrange a town hall meeting with the building’s residents and invite elected officials.
In the days leading up to the meeting, Cuevas, stressed and shaky, called the press, typed up a handful of flyers and put them under residents’ doors. On Wednesday, February 15, the day before the meeting, Cuevas and DMeza circled back, knocked on doors, approached people in the hallways and on the elevator, to remind them about the big tenant meeting.
“Corazon, mañana a las seis y media es la reunion, no me fallas por favor,” Cuevas reminded the tenants. (My friend, the meeting is tomorrow at 6:30, please remember to come out).
She caught them as they were coming home from work. A few seemed enthusiastic, supportive. And ready.
But mostly, the building’s residents smiled faintly, and nervously rushed past Cuevas and DMeza into their apartments, abruptly locking their doors behind them.
Stay tuned to Bed-Stuy Patch as our "Crisis in Public Housing" series continues next with the Norgate Plaza Tenant Association Meeting.