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Social work: owners, managers wearing new hat.

Residential owners and managers, at all levels of the economic spectrum, are finding more residents requiring a variety of social services and finding themselves taking a greater role in ensuring their needs are met.

If the tenants obtain the help they need, owners say, it keeps the families stable and the owners are more likely to have the rent paid without resorting to costly court actions. Additionally, the growing aged population and employment layoffs are adding new problems to the property owners' agendas.

Harley Brooke-Hitching, the principal of Equities, Ltd., owns buildings in East Harlem on 110th, 111th and 112th Streets. She hires her employees from her tenant rolls and all of them speak Spanish. "We're pretty much a social service agency," she said. Brooke-Hitching said she takes great pride in her tenants' and employees' accomplishments. On her office wall is a photograph of one of the tenants who made it through a drug rehabilitation program. Next to it is the diploma.

The woman who runs Brooke-Hitching's office, Awilda Rivera, is herself a third generation tenant and her mother and grandmother also live in the buildings. Rivera went through the welfare system, received job training, and at one point worked at a bank. Now as office manager for Brooke-Hitching, she helps the other tenants with their problems.

Rivera guides them through the welfare system and knows who to call to help them get their problems resolved. She helps them obtain benefits from the city's "One-shot" program which pays the back rent when non-payment is caused by unusual circumstances and is something the tenant cannot make up.

Rivera also helps her neighbors with Section 8 allowances. This is a state-run program which, Brooke-Hitching said pays the majority of the rent and works in conjunction with welfare and the family's income. "You don't have to be on welfare to get it," Brooke-Hitching said. Unlike the city which pays tenants' rent in two parts which comes in the middle of the month, she says, the Section 8 "is great because that check arrives on the first of the month."

She said all of her tenants have her home number and a recent city paid for and instigated "Fight Back" program to organize tenants to fight their landlord fizzled because the tenants were happy.

She also does not sit still when it comes to making sure her tenants stay in line. "If I have a bad tenant," Brooke-Hitching said, "or I see it's out-and-out fraud of the welfare system, I try to get the bad ones, as well as help the good ones." She "gets them" by writing letters to case workers, police officers and commissioners.

The Rosenberg Diamond Development Corp. is unusual in that the Bronx-based firm actually has a social worker on staff. The caseworker is just a small part of the story. Among other things, the firm keeps a list of all the agencies the tenants needed. They also follow-up to make sure the tenants are going to social agency appointments when they are supposed to.

Tenants are helped in their efforts to obtain food stamps and government rent allowances by the Rosenberg-Diamond social worker. The social worker also ensures that the children go to school on time. CEO David T. Diamond is chairman of the board of the Bronx Museum of the Arts and includes information and discounted admissions for the museum with the rent bills.

Georgia J. Mallone, a senior partner at the law firm Finkelstein, Borah, Schwartz, Altschuler & Goldstein P.C., which represents many owners, said the use of an individual acting as a social worker allows for much better relationships between owners and tenants. This kind of thing is the leading edge of ownership, she said, but she thinks it would only be beneficial for low-income and middle-income properties. If this was a better economic time, Mallone noted, the owners might not be so altruistic. The owners, she said, are facing vacancies and also want to reduce their legal fees. "The courts are congested and theRe are a lot of skipped rents," she said.

The Community Housing Improvement Program's (CHIP) Executive Director Dan Margulies said even the big owners are active in dealing with social services for shelter rent alloances. "Often it's a matter of sel-defense," he noted. "They develop relationships with local social services field offices so, if a tenant needs help, they can plug them in."

Edward Sisters Real Estate manages about 20 properties in Harlem. Some buildings, said property manager Ramona Grey Harris, are co-ops and have a tenant interim leasing program whereby tenants eventually buy the apartments. "My greatest concerns have to be the senior citizens," she said, "because everything that can go wrong, does go wrong." Grey said the senior citizens have crack addict "push-in" robberies; they forget to get pots from the stove and have fires; and they fall down. "If you don't see them for a while they can be deceased in the apartment," she added.

Grey said sometimes the seniors cannot pay the rent and she has to help them with SCERIE applications (Senior Citizens Emergency Rent Increase Exemptions).

"Most of the large owners I know have people on staff assisting tenants with SCERIE applications," Margulies noted. "People forget to renew and requalify and then the owner spends years collecting the rent simply because the elderly person was not capable of dealing with it in a timely fashion."

Margulies said they have been told by people in the SCERIE units not to have the property owners help frill out the forms because they feel its an invasion of tenant's privacy. "It's simply ridiculous that they feel that way," Margulies said.

There are other incidences when, Grey said, she had to get tenants' Section 8 subsidies to help them pay their rent, and numerous times she said she has had to call Protective Services to help them.

One of Grey's elderly tenants had a street person move in with him and, after ensuring the rent was paid, took the rest of the money. It was only when the tenant complained about being hungry that Grey discovered the extent of the tenants' problem. It was several months of phone calls to relatives and social service agencies before he was properly taken care of, Grey said. Resolutions of the problem included getting immediate Meals on Wheels. She also decided, together with the local police precinct, to change the locks and not give the tenant a key so that the street person could not get into the apartment. The staff let the tenant in and out. The tenant eventually broke his hip in the street, right in front of a police car, Grey said, and ended up in a nursing home.

Sometimes, Margulies said, tenants need a day care person or are too proud or too old to know what to do about getting into a nursing home. Every big property owner knows who to call or has contacts at the neighborhood churches or agencies, Margulies noted. "The agency person might then introduce themselves to the tenant and inquire if the tenant could use some help," he said. "If someone from the neighborhood church stops by and makes an evaluation and sees the need, then that's often the way it's dealt with." If the property owner makes the inquiry to the tenant, Margulies said it could be viewed with some suspicion, Margulies said, it could be viewed with some suspicion, particularly if it involves the tenant vacating the apartment to go to a nursing home.

Another tenant, Grey said, has piled up boxes of food throughout the apartment "waiting for the Depression." The rats, mice and roaches did not wait and neither did the Health Department which fined the building. Grey finally got family members to clean the place out.

"The senior citizens are an interesting group and obstinate," Grey noted, "and they trust everybody. There is no question in my mind that I've become a glorified mother."

Charles Rappaport, the president of the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives, which represents 700 member condominiums and co-ops, notes that as the co-ops move along in years, the residents start to age and have problems. "What were spry senior citizens are now frail and need Meals on Wheels," he noted. They become difficult and senile, Rappaport said, and the co-ops must retain the staff to do simple things like changing light bulbs for them.

"I can't expect a 72-year-old man who uses a cane to climb up on a step stool to change a fluorescent bulb," he said. "Co-op boards have to start paying attention as their residents mature."

One property owner, Margulies said, calls relatives of elderly tenants if they accidentaly set a pot on fire or have problem. At his garden apartment complex in Syracuse, New York, the relatives thank the owner for letting them know. "In New York City," Margulies said, the relatives say, "why are you harassing my father."

Timothy J. Fine, senior vice president and managing director of Charles Greenthal Group, said, when there is a problem with a tenant, particularly with the elderly and the disabled, he has contacted family members. his company tries to keep an up-to-date emergency contact list by sending a periodic letter to the residents. "We find that the direct contact is not always the solution," Fine noted, "because (the residents) are having their own problems. You have to find family members or others who have indicated they are willing to come into the picture. Even then, the family members say the person doesn't listen to them either."

Morton Glick, managing director of Morton Andrews Associate, which manages Park Avenue luxury co-ops, said he has called Protective Services on a couple of occasions.

In one instance, he said, a woman went to work every day nicely dressed and it was impossible to tell that something was wrong, although she did mention she did not feel well. Other residents soon began complaining that there was a horrible odor emanating from the woman's apartment and the board started to talk about a court action. Before that happened, Glick said, there was a water leak and the handymen had to go to into the apartment. They found the sinks and toilets stopped up and unworkable as well as an accumulation of garbage. Glick called Protective Services and they helped clean out the apartment and found psychiatric help for the woman. "She thanked me later," he said.

Although children's day care has not become part of the property owner's job, Margulies said, it is quite common in co-ops and the new luxury rentals which have health clubs to put aside space for children's play area. But the tenants are expected to have the children supervised by the parent or the babysitter, he said. "The Columbia just took space away from the health club to expand the children's play area," Margulies added, but he noted, a children's play area is more in the way of amenities than social services. That could change in the future if property owners find they cannot get the tenants to work without ensuring they have proper child care at home.

Sometimes, Margulies said, a long-time tenant needs a break after a sudden hardship or high medical bills. "There is a question whether you can give someone a break for six months or a year and not have it become a permanent break for them or a successive tenant," he said. "A lot of it is done with a wink and a nod and the hope that you can get the paperwork straightened out before the tenant dies. It's very hard to protect yourself from your own good deeds. You can take half a month's rent one time and then the following month the tenant claims this is his legal rent."

Margulies believes it is better business to give a long-time tenant the break and work it out than to work it out in court, "Running everybody's life." Although, he said, there are always people who will take advantage of the situation and use the ploy of a rental hardship as a delaying tactics, "that is, on a day-in-day-out basis, the most common kind of social work in the city."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:managers take greater role in ensuring tenants' needs met
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:May 22, 1991
Previous Article:Victory now facing appeal.
Next Article:Helping brokerage make its mark.

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