Tenants of Stratford Tower in Soundview absorbed the news of the deadly fire at Twin Parks Northwest two miles away in the Bronx with dread and concern.

Their building shares the same owners, Camber Property Group and Belveron Partners, under the same state affordable housing program, known as Mitchell Lama.

The Stratford tenants had suffered an electrical fire last year which destroyed an apartment, but luckily it did not spread. A dozen residents who spoke to THE CITY said they use heaters or electric fireplaces in the winter, some more than one. Another said he used his kitchen oven to keep warm.

A faulty electric heater started the Twin Parks fire, killing 17 people.

“The landlord doesn’t give you a choice,” said Rosalina Vilchez, 43, a tenant of Stratford Tower. “You’d freeze to death without one in this place.”

Vilchez had a close call last March, when an extension cord his family was using to power their TV started a fire that caused severe damage to their top-floor apartment and left them homeless for months.

Stratford tenants are seeking repairs from Camber-registered 1340 Stratford Owner LLC, which has owned the 129-apartment, 11-story building since 2016 and receives federal funding with state and city oversight.

Tenants cited conditions similar to those described by Twin Parks residents before their disaster: heat and hot water problemsdrafty windows and faulty smoke detectors.

The co-founder of Camber Properties is Rick Gropper, who was a member of Mayor Eric Adams’ transition committee.

As with all of our properties, we take resident feedback very seriously and their safety and comfort is our top priority,” a Camber spokesperson said in a statement. “We will continue to work with our on-site property manager, Wavecrest Management, to address any existing concerns from residents at 1340 Stratford Avenue and those brought to our attention in the future. We encourage residents to contact management with any concerns. »

“I have two heaters running right now”

Last Wednesday, as the temperature outside dipped below freezing and the wind blew, tenants reported being without heat or hot water for the second time in as many weeks.

When THE CITY surrendered that day the radiators were cold. Yet sometimes tenants choose to brave the cold, bundled up in coats, reluctant to run heaters, and risk a disaster like Twin Parks.

“I’m very worried about it,” said Arles Cepeda, 75, who said she used her heater less often despite the freezing temperatures in her apartment. “Because they are the same owners, the same problems. What if we were next?

1340 Stratford Ave. in the Bronx, January 26, 2022.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Another tenant, Paula Allen, chimed in, noting that the heat in her apartment had been knocked out at 10 a.m. that morning. “I have two heaters running right now,” she said.

In total, tenants filed 57 building-wide complaints with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, reporting no heat or hot water since October, including Monday and Tuesday.

Representative Ritchie Torres (D-The Bronx) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand presented a Invoice require heat sensors in all federally funded housing.

There are 30 heat sensors in Stratford Tower, according to a Wavecrest spokesperson.

The spokesperson added that the average temperature in the building from December 1 to January 31 was 72.8 degrees and the maximum temperature was 75.4 degrees.

“Once residents alert building staff to inefficient heat, we urgently perform an initial assessment of the heat in the unit by checking the operation of the unit’s radiators and taking action. temperature using a digital infrared thermometer,” said Susan Camerata, chief financial officer of Wavecrest. A declaration.

“Any necessary repairs are prioritized to ensure heat is restored,” she added, noting, “1340 Stratford Ave currently has no open heat-related HPD violations.”

‘Center of the Good Life’

Advertised in property brochures when it was built in 1966 as “the center of fine living”, Stratford Tower today receives funding from the Federal Government via a Section 8 program contract.

Tenants range from middle-class professionals to small families, retirees and, more recently, formerly homeless people.

Camber Property Group bought Stratford Towers in December 2016, pledging two years later to rapidly upgrade the apartments’ lifts and circuit breakers. The new landlord has agreed to keep the property affordable for 40 years under his agreement with the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal, which must approve any rent increases during that time.

The building is managed by Wavecrest Management, which has also operates certain buildings on behalf of the New York City Housing Authority as part of its Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program.

A spokesperson for Camber Property Group said the company completed $1.6 million in major repairs, including exterior facade updates, electrical upgrades and elevator modernizations.

Tenants say they are still waiting for improvements.

When the fire broke out in his apartment on March 31 last year, “the alarm never went off,” Vilchez said.

And Stratford Tower Tenants’ Association president Shanita Lawrence said the building’s heating problems escalated once 1340 Stratford Owner LLC took over.

Tenant Association President Shanita Lawrence organized residents of 1340 Stratford Ave.  in the Bronx to demand better living conditions, January 27, 2022.

Shanita Lawrence.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

She alleged that a new gas boiler system installed in 2015 by former owner Joel Gluck began to malfunction in early 2017.

“Most Stratford Tower tenants have experienced a marked drop in apartment warmth over the past two winters,” Lawrence wrote in an October 2019 letter to Gropper.

“It seems that your definition of affordable housing with heating quality is basically that it doesn’t matter if some tenants get very little heat while others get a lot of heat as long as the low-heat tenants are at or a slightly above the established minimum. The Stratford Tower TA finds this unacceptable.

Gropper responded nearly three weeks later, denying there were any issues: “Rest assured that your concerns have been and are being taken very seriously. As discussed with you previously, we investigated all reports regarding heat adequacy and found no system-wide or systemic issues.

“Building heat is maintained at or above required levels in all cases; this has been verified by physical inspections with portable temperature readers as well as digital monitors located throughout the building which continuously provide information,” he wrote.

Threat of rent strike

The heat was knocked out again the last weekend in January as a Nor’easter swept through the city dropping eight inches of snow. As of Tuesday night, several tenants were still without heat or hot water, Lawrence said.

“It’s the 2nd freezing weekend this winter with temperatures in the teens that the heat goes out for hours at a time. On top of that there are tenants who have broken radiators that don’t have still not repaired after years of complaining,” she wrote in an email to building managers and owners on Monday, for the third time in five days.

“There is no reason why I have to repeat that fixing radiators should be a top priority at this point,” she wrote.

A spokesperson for Wavecrest disputed Lawrence’s account and said the building had gotten even hotter over the past two weeks, including last weekend.

Dana Stemoulis says her Bronx apartment inside 1340 Stratford Ave.  is full of drafts in the winter due to an empty AC wall unit and a balcony door that does not close completely, January 26, 2022.

The broken balcony door in Dana Stemoulis’ apartment. January 26, 2022.
Claudia Irizarry Aponte/THE CITY

Dana Stemoulis, 58, who has lived in Stratford since 2000, says her balcony door makes the apartment so drafty that she tapes it shut in the winter and puts towels on the floor in this door and its front door to keep the apartment heater.

State records show the owner has pledged to replace all balcony doors, but not before the end of 2025.

Morale is so low among Stratford residents that tenants threatened a rent strike in December if the building’s heating system was not fixed quickly, Lawrence said. It was only then that a representative of the owners began to “make themselves available for meetings” with the board, she said.