Vol. 19,  No.  4 Feb. 23 - Mar. 8, 2006


Fire Rekindles Tracey Concerns


A suspicious fire and ongoing maintenance issues at Tracey Towers have sparked anger among residents and a rebellion against tenant leaders.

“A lot of issues are still on the table,” said Betty Woodard, a 30-year resident of the large Bedford Park complex.

Frustration with serious problems at Tracey spiked last April when Ming Chen, a Chinese delivery man, got stuck in one of the building’s elevators for four days. The infamous incident forced R-Y Management, which oversees Tracey, to step up efforts to rehab the towers’ elevators and work closer with tenants. R-Y began meeting bi-weekly with Tracey’s tenant council, creating a plan for building and security improvements, and starting on a number of renovations.

To date, three out of 12 of the elevators have been rehabbed, with the project slated to wrap up by the end of this year. Tracey’s meeting room, which suffered from chronic leaks, was fixed up. Work on four of the boilers started earlier this winter. R-Y also secured a loan to fund façade and roof improvements.

The work satisfied tenants’ concerns to a degree, but unrest has resurfaced as serious problems continue. Residents report that the elevators, including the new ones, skip stops, zoom up and down, and break down for extended periods. “The elevators are going crazy,” said Sam Gillian, a tenant and vocal critic of Tracey’s conditions.

The situation was underscored when a fire broke out on Jan. 28 on the 33rd floor of one of the towers. Several tenants say that because only one of the elevators that goes as high as the 41st floor was operational that evening, firefighters resorted to climbing the stairs to reach the blaze. “They had to lug their equipment up 13 floors,” Gillian said.

The fire took an hour to contain and required more than one engine, according to a Fire Department spokesperson. It caused extensive damage to the apartment’s kitchen, where it erupted. The Fire Department did not determine a cause.

Tenants suspect, however, that a faulty refrigerator plug caused the fire. “[Maintenance] kept repairing it instead of replacing it,” said Jean Hill, a close friend of the couple who lived in the apartment. Gillian also questioned whether the repairman was qualified to fix the appliance.

R-Y’s manager for Tracey, Dan Durante, did not return calls for comment.

Tracey residents have long complained about the competence and attentiveness of their maintenance and security staff. Chen’s ordeal further highlighted those concerns.

Donele Harrison, the secretary of Tracey’s tenant council, says they are interviewing security companies to replace Copstat, their current provider. They hope to choose between two bidders by the end of this month.

There has been less progress in overhauling the maintenance situation. Tracey’s current company has been without a contract for three months due to disagreements with R-Y, according to Harrison. “They are saying ‘we have no supplies,’ while management is saying they’re lazy. We’re suffering in the interim,” she said.

Tracey tenants are also in the midst of a power struggle. Some residents charge that the council has gotten too cozy with R-Y, and are calling for immediate leadership elections. In the meantime, they have formed their own tenants committee called the Tracey Towers Concerned Residents.

“We’re reflecting the anger that’s been building up among the tenants,” said Gillian, who has been joined by about a dozen others. “The tenant council isn’t doing what they should be doing.”

Harrison admits that the council might not be as aggressive as some tenants want. But she thinks their approach is more effective. “At least we have them talking and things are getting better,” she said. “You are never going to satisfy everyone.”

The new group has started a petition concerning elections. Woodard says they’ve gotten residents from 366 of the 861 total units to sign as of earlier this month. “Things are not getting better here,” she said.

Elections for the council are slated for September. Harrison said the council is sticking with that timeline, and will form a nominating committee in the spring.

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