19, No. 4
Feb. 23 - Mar. 8, 2006
Fire Rekindles Tracey Concerns
By HEATHER HADDON
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
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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