Jashawn Parker is dead.
That's a tragic fact for his family, friends and neighbors, and for this community.
It's also the shame of a city that has for decades allowed criminally negligent landlords to maintain control of their buildings.
The warning signs at 3569 DeKalb Ave. were everywhere for anyone who wanted to look and, more importantly, act. The building racked up an obscene 387 housing code violations, many of them the most serious kind. In the abstract, that might mean little. But take a walk over to 3569 DeKalb Ave. and you'll see what it means in reality. Walk past the lively, loving memorial for Jashawn into the lobby and you'll smell the still-fresh stench of smoke from the fire. (Even before the tragedy, tenants said the smell of gas was a regular occurrence.)
In Lakeisha Miller's apartment, electrical outlets are still overloaded with plugs from appliances because other non-working outlets in the apartment have been plastered over. A wall was repaired recently but will need repair again because the pipes inside the wall are faulty, a problem that plagues the entire building. In Justina Hernandez' apartment back on the first floor, the walls are buckling because of the same defective plumbing and the ceilings perpetually leak. Down in the basement in a room sealed off by the Fire Department, fans hover over exposed electrical wires to prevent them from overheating. That frightening fact is recorded for all to see on the Buildings Department Web site.
It wasn't that the system wasn't accessible. It just wasn't working. The tenants, housing advocates, and the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development had regular dates in court. But over at least two years, three different judges kept giving Eric Gladstein and Quest Management more chances than anyone deserves. The judges apparently resisted appointing an outside administrator to take control and make repairs to the building. That reluctance to use what is known as the 7A program is all to common and a prime target for those seeking to change law and policy.
The last straw should have been when Gladstein was indicted and plead guilty to stealing rent subsidies mean for poor tenants. But even that appalling crime did nothing to move the judges at Bronx Housing Court, where even the worst landlords have nothing to fear.
There is little time to waste. Jashawn's building is still in desperate condition and another tragedy could happen at any time there, or at many other neglected area buildings we've reported on in recent months.
Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum was the only elected official to issue a press release about what surely should be a citywide story. The release stated that Gotbaum "believes that when buildings are in an extreme state of disrepair, HPD [Department of Housing Preservation and Development] should aggressively seek to take over management of buildings and that the Housing Court should use its authority to grant such requests."
A little boy died because of a broken system. It's time for our elected and public officials to act to stop it from happening again.
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