Correction: This article incorrectly stated that the Amalgamated Houses are located in Riverdale.
Van Cortlandt Village is home to the nation’s oldest affordable housing co-op, Amalgamated Houses, which has stood for nearly a century and is seen as a generational fixture for residents spanning generations. When Building One opened to 303 local working-class families in 1927, it was a pioneer in large-scale moderate-income housing cooperatives in the U.S.
However, tenants and managers at Amalgamated Houses today are concerned about the co-op’s future as nearly 800 units in the the 1,500-apartment system are facing possible gas shutoffs on July 1, as aging gas lines in the buildings are in need of serious repair and building managers are unable to afford to pay for the servicing.
Last December, Amalgamated’s contracted plumbing company assessed that “major work” needed to be done to repair the aging gas piping systems in the cooperatives by June 30, which carries a $6,500-$7,500 price tag per apartment.
However, the cost of the project — in line with the June 30 deadline — is outside of Amalgamated’s capital funds, according to general manager Charles Zsebedics in a letter obtained by the Bronx Times that was addressed to tenants.
Zsebedics put some of the onus on Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), the state agency which oversees Amalgamated Houses and approves their loan paperwork.
Zsebedics points the finger at HCR’s inaction in securing much-needed low-interest loans in 2020 and 2021 that he says would have offset the costs to repair the gas lines and the need for long-term improvement in the face of future deterioration.
“The bottom line is we simply do not have sufficient funds available to pay for the gas piping repairs that must be made,” wrote Zsebedics. “Even if we did have enough money available to make all of the repairs that are needed right now, staying connected to gas leaves open indefinitely the potential for future gas shutdown due to gas lines that will continue to deteriorate as they age.”
When the Bronx Times reached out to Zsebedics regarding Amalgamated Housing’s next steps regarding affected tenants but did not receive a response before press time.
A spokesperson from HCR told the Bronx Times that they have contacted Con Edison about the gas shutdown and schedule, but noted that it’s up to the managers of the Amalgamated buildings to provide solutions.
“HCR is in contact with ConEd about a potential shutdown of cooking gas at Amalgamated, including whether a shutdown is actually scheduled,” said spokesperson Brian Butry. “However, as Amalgamated is a privately owned building, it is the responsibility of the Housing Company to manage the building and provide solutions to potential problems such as this.”
However, Con Edison officials told the Bronx Times their role in this matter, as it pertains to the Local 152 law that led to the December inspection and mandated deadline for gas shutoff, isn’t enforced by them.
“We’ll shut off gas (for their plumbing company) as it related to them fixing what they need to fix with their gas system, but as far as the inspection and Local Law 152, that’s not something we really control,” said Con Ed spokesperson Allan Drury.
In 2017, the state agency provided a subsidy loan in the amount of $6.65 million — with $43.5 million in private financing from Amalgamated Apartments — to address immediate repairs and long-term capital needs on all 11 residential buildings.
Rehab work, according to HCR, was supposed to include repairs to the buildings’ fire escapes, new drainage systems, garage repair and restoration, asbestos and lead abatement and replacement of the boilers.
HCR is among the top three housing issuers in the nation comprising 5.4% of the sector; they finance the redevelopment or preservation of Mitchell-Lama Housing units and are tasked with making capital available for the preservation and improvement of these properties.
The Amalgamated Houses are 11 apartment houses, scattered over six blocks just south of Van Cortlandt Park. The buildings came to be when then-Gov. Alfred E. Smith signed a 1926 Housing Law, offering a 20-year tax exemption and low-cost building loans to developers who kept profits below 6%.
One resident, who has lived at the co-op for 10 years and would be affected by the gas shutoffs, told the Bronx Times that the shape of the buildings’ units have lost their luster over time and is limited in its capacity to modernize.
“I live in a historic and beautiful building, but it’s not a modern one,” said tenant Richie Andrews. “You would like to think, you’ve got 10-15 good years left here, but I think this building is starting to show its age and it’s unfortunate that we’re the ones being affected.”
According to Zsebedics, building management and HCR are hoping to provide tenants in affected buildings with a two-burner induction cooktop and an air fryer as an interim solution to gas service shutoffs. However, Amalgamated management does not currently have the funding available to purchase those items.
Zsebedics noted that the buildings also can’t transition its gas stoves to electric stoves in affected apartments, because a standard electric stove would overwhelm the electrical capacity of the building’s near-century old apartments.
According to a study done by Amalgamated Housing, the cost of electrical upgrades to support use of an electric stove in the co-op would be $3,000 per apartment.
During a March 1 state Assembly hearing, Riverdale Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, whose mother and brother were residents of the complex, said the HCR’s inability to secure low-interest loans in years prior is further compounded by the rising costs of loans now.
“(Amalgamated) are in big trouble now, and part of the reason I think they are in big trouble now is because of the inaction of the agency,” said Dinowitz. “They’ve tried in the past to secure loans, which they had lined up, but there were delays … and people in bureaucracy were dawdling. I think the agency has to step up and change the way to do things so they can get them done at a reasonable time.”
– ET Rodriguez contributed to this report.