Despite need for affordable housing, a building sits vacant in Carroll Gardens

A building in Carroll Gardens, 165 West 9th Street, has caused nothing but trouble since it was built in 2002. A number of construction problems and violations that the landowner has yet to fix make the property dangerous and not suitable for occupation.

There are over 1,300 city-owned and tax-delinquent vacant properties around the city, according to a report recently released by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. However, the city does not keep track of how many buildings, like the one in 9th Street, are vacant because of construction violations, said Alexander Schnell, Department of Buildings’ press contact.

Although Stringer’s report proposes to create Land Banks, non-profit corporations designed to transform city-owned and tax-delinquent properties into affordable housing, it doesn’t provide a solution for buildings that are up to date in their taxes but cannot be occupied because of construction violations.

“There is no way for the Department of Buildings to get ownership over a building when a vacate is put in place,” Schnell said, explaining that an order to vacate is placed when damages, dangerous conditions and construction violations make it impossible to ensure public safety. “It is responsibility of the owner to maintain the property.”

Data taken from The New York City Comptroller’s Audit Report

The building in West 9th Street has 13 construction, plumbing and boiler violations that the owner, Tunnel Condos LLC, has not fixed. These violations, as well as five others that have been dismissed, were found two years ago by the Department of Buildings.

The department inspected the property in 2014 because the owner of Tunnel Condos, Alan Lapes, was trying to open a homeless shelter for 170 men in the building. After finding almost 20 violations, the department ruled that the building could not be used, according to a Curbed New York article.

The property had been empty for most of the time up to that point because its Floor Area Ratio, the ratio between the total floor space of the building (including all stories) and the area of the land in which it is built, exceeds the Floor Area Ratio allowed in Carroll Gardens. The only time the building was occupied was in 2012, when  120 homeless veterans displaced by Sandy were accommodated for a little more than a month, according to DNAinfo.

Immediately after the Department of Buildings established that the building was unsafe, Lapes disappeared without fixing any of the violations or paying the $12,000 fee mandated by the city.

In 2014, Lapes was the largest operator of homeless shelters around the city and owned more than 20 of them, as reported by The New York Times. The Times article explains that Lapes was facing intense accusations of inhumane conditions and building violations in his shelters, including periods without heat and hot water, infractions of fire safety laws and broken elevators.

These unsafe and inhumane conditions caused many Carroll Gardens residents to oppose Alan’s proposal to open a shelter in the 9th Street building. However, their opposition didn’t mean that they wanted the building to remain empty. Many of them think that the building should be fixed and used to meet the need for affordable housing in the neighborhood.

Proof of this need is that the Carroll Gardens Association, a non-profit organization that provides affordable housing in Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, has close to a thousand individuals on its wait list, said Ben Fuller-Googins, Carroll Gardens Association community planner.

“What we have been experiencing is that many long-time residents have been displaced because there is no way for them to keep up with the prices here,” he said. “Adequate affordable housing should be there to protect this people.”

Fuller-Googins was making reference to the very high cost of living in Carroll Gardens. In fact, Carroll Gardens is one of the three most expensive neighborhoods in Brooklyn, along with Dumbo and Vinegar Hill, according to the online research tool Property Shark.


Data taken from Property Shack

According to Fuller-Googins,  the city should be able to fix the violations and put the building to use for affordable housing.

“I think it would be more efficient for the city to just take possession over these properties, instead of waiting until the landowners fix the violations,” he said. “But I don’t believe such a policy exists.”

In spite of several attempts both on the phone and in person, Tunnel Condos could not be reached for comment. So it remains unclear who owns the company now that Alan has disappeared.