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Queens Chronicle

Disgraceful dwelling angers all

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Posted: Thursday, April 8, 2010 12:00 am

The smell of urine and liquor is so thick it clings to your skin. In each room, garbage is piled high and flies swarm around dirt-encrusted matresses. Condom wrappers litter the kitchen floor. In the front yard among an assortment of debris lies a discarded hypodermic needle. It’s hard to imagine that the house at 88-18 Burdette Place in Jamaica was ever a home.

“What’s wrong with the city agencies, what’s wrong with our community, what’s wrong with our politicians — are they out to lunch — everyone has given up calling because you might as well be talking to a wall,” resident Amy Andersen, who lives nearby on Parsons Boulevard shouted in frustration as she stood outside the dilapidated dwelling on Monday.

Andersen says the shack is the fifth abandoned house in the area that has been claimed by homeless squatters. “Once they break in, it’s a disaster,” she said. “They’re not just homeless people, they’re violent people. When they get cold, they set fires to keep warm.”

Prostitutes frequently enter and exit the premises, according to Ruisdael Guerrero Bravo, the superintendant of an adjacent building located at 153-15 89th Ave.

“Ten or 20 people sleep in there,” Bravo said. “I call the police. The police take them out and then one minute later they come back.”

Rabaca, who lives across the street with her three young nieces, and asked that her last name not be printed, says she is often awakened in the middle of the night by the inhabitants of the filthy house. “We can’t even go outside because we are afraid of them,” she said. “They are drinking, making noise, breaking the windows.”

Last Thursday the Department of Buildings issued a violation to Wells Fargo Bank, the owner of 88-18 Burdette Place, for failure to maintain the two-story building. “We will be conducting another inspection today to determine if further action needs to be taken,” Ryan Fitzgibbon, a spokeswoman for the DOB said Monday. “It’s the owner’s responsibility to make sure the building is safe and maintained properly.”

Fran Durst, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, said that while the bank is the trustee of the property, the mortgage servicer — Homeloan Services, a subsidiary of Bank of America — is responsible for its upkeep.

“We have no control over the loan any longer,” said Joyce Bearman, a spokewoman for Homeloan Services. “It was transferred somewhere else.” On March 10, 2008, that loan and a group of 190 others was handed over to a Salt Lake City-based company called Select Portfolio Servicing, Bearman said.

Select Portfolio’s customer service department referred the Chronicle to Jacqueline Johnson, head of human resources who said she would look into the matter but did not respond by press time.

Mohamed Keita, a security supervisor with Jamaica Alliance part of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, has seen homeless people entering the building on multiple occasions. He reported the activity to 311 and was told someone would be sent to investigate. One week later, the site shows no signs of improvement.

“This is not their property,” Keita said of the hookers, homeless and drug fiends. “They are not going to take care of it. When they smoke cigarettes, they can throw them anywhere and start a fire. When there is trouble, they can just run away.”

Mountains of garbage and broken glass have consumed the yard and are attracting mice and large rats, according to Keita. “If this was in another community, they would take a rapid response,” he said. “This is crazy. I’ve called the city and no one wants to respond to the problem.”

Andersen says numerous community members have called her about the house because they are too afraid to take action themselves. “I’ve seen how violent they are,” Andersen said of the squatters. “I’ve seen them chase people around the corner with lead pipes. I won’t go near them, not anymore.”

Upon seeing the squalid conditions inside the home for the first time on Monday, Andersen once again called the police. Fifteen minutes later officers Tom Gross and Joe Fernandez of the 103rd Precinct arrived at the scene. They each slid on a pair of thick black gloves before entering the property.

“We need a complainant to press charges, and if the bank is not interested, there is nothing we can do,” said Gross. “We need a witness and somebody to press charges.”

“Obviously if there is someone hanging out in here, that’s different, but there’s nobody here, that’s the problem,” added Fernandez.

Andersen, who has lived in the neighborhood for 65 years, said the police have been doing their best, making arrests when they can, but the problem isn’t going away. “You can’t expect the 103rd Precinct to babysit when Wells Fargo owns the property,” she said. “I was told that the city issued an emergency order and that in 24 hours it would be boarded up. That was Thursday. If this is the best that the City of New York can do, boy have we got a problem.”

Yvonne Reddick, the district manager of Community Board 12, walked around the perimeter of the building in disbelief, but refused to go inside. “This is a dumping ground,” she said shaking her head at the piles of trash in the backyard. “Look at the condition of this house. You don’t even have sidewalks or curbs.”

Reddick called the Department of Buildings and said someone told her the city would issue an emergency seal-up order for the first floor. Reddick also said she planned to notify the departments of Sanitation and Health about the property.

Welcome to the discussion.