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Lawmakers Want City To Pay For Repairs At Vacated Inwood Building

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While residents of an Upper Manhattan apartment building wait to return home after being forced out because of safety concerns, local lawmakers are calling on the city to front the cash to make necessary repairs.

City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and State Senator Adriano Espaillat want the city to come up with the $20 million needed to fix the nearly 1,000 violations at 552 Academy Street in Inwood.

"It is time for us as a city to be responsible," said Rodriguez said. "I already allocated a million dollars. Manhattan borough president allocated a half a million dollars. HPD and the city is committed to renovate this building."

Department of Buildings officials ordered hundreds of tenants to leave their homes Friday, and no one knows when they will be allowed back inside.

The Red Cross is trying to help some families find temporary shelter, and most remain frustrated and confused.

"All of a sudden now, they realize that if there was a fire in the building, the building only has one exit. And that exit has been closed for the last three years," said Tenant Association President Iris Bertoni.

"They told us we couldn't get in. I have stuff in there. Identifications I need, I don't have any clothes and they're telling us we can't go back in," said one tenant.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development says it's negotiating with the owner, Rachael Arfa, to transfer the building to a responsible community group because she has a long record of putting residents in danger.

HPD says Arfa owns 11 of what it calls the city's worst 200 buildings.

With 900 violations still unaddressed, residents say they've complained about everything from a lack of heat and cooking gas to water leaks and chronic drug dealing to garbage.

"There's garbage everywhere, people urinate everywhere. You're not able to cook or sleep properly," said Tenant Paul Garcia.

Meantime, the city has started making repairs using emergency money.

City officials hope to make the building safe enough for residents to move back by Tuesday or Wednesday.

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