Iesha Poindexter inside her three-year-old son, Ramel Huggins’s, bedroom in her apartment at 4453 White Plains Road, where she and her family have been dealing with heating and mice issues, in the Bronx, New York, Thursday, November 7, 2019. (Shawn Inglima/for New York Daily News)
By Michael Gartland,
Keep your mouth shut, and you can stay put. That’s the loud-and-clear message a social services provider sent to a Bronx mother of three when it made her promise to stop calling the city’s 311 help line with gripes about her heat-less, rodent-filled subsidized apartment. Iesha Poindexter told the Daily News that since she moved into her 4453 White Plains Rd. unit in 2013, it’s been one nightmare after another, with spotty heat and hot water and a near-constant sprinkling of rodent droppings on her family’s clothing. When management failed to remedy the issues, she complained to 311 — which irked staffers so much, they told her to stop calling, or go.
In August, Poindexter was presented with a form that stipulated she must stop contacting the city helpline with complaints, or she’d get the boot. The form said she must “refrain from calling 311 in regard to any complaints or repair work that needs to be completed in your apartment or on any of Five Stars Management property.”
Poindexter, afraid she’d find herself on the street with her three sons — and the two kittens she adopted as a form of rodent control — reluctantly signed. But now, she told The News, management is going to kick her out anyway when her lease expires in March. “They just gave me a lease … but said there’s no way they’re renewing it,” she said. “They evil.” The building she lives in, Poindexter said, houses tenants who receive a mix of rent subsidies, including supportive housing and welfare money, which she receives, as well as other sources of funding like Section 8 vouchers and veterans assistance.
She pays rent out of her own pocket through supportive housing subsidies from the Acacia Network — the entity that provides social services in the building and whose letterhead appears on the form she signed — and with welfare money she gets through the city Department of Homeless Services, she said. All of it goes to the building’s property manager, Five Stars Management. Five Stars Management, the actual property manager, denies having anything to do with the 311 stipulation. But Poindexter said a rep from Acacia told her that Five Stars approved the agreement before it was sent to her.
Joshua Goldfein, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s homeless rights project, described the 311 request as legally dubious, noting the landlords could potentially face penalties from prosecutors as a result. “Anytime you’re asking someone to give up their right to complain to a regulatory agency, you are not on sound ground,” he said. “There are rules against harassing tenants.” Five Stars Management has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in recent weeks after The News revealed poor conditions in several of the Bronx buildings it manages. Gov. Cuomo launched an investigation into the company’s properties three weeks ago.
Acacia, which has received millions of dollars in government funding in recent years, has also not escaped scrutiny. A state official noted that while the state does not have jurisdiction over Acacia in the matter, anything it unearths about the non-profit will be referred to city authorities.
Poindexter’s primary grievances in her Bronx apartment have been heat and hot water outages and a mice infestation she believes is responsible for her youngest son’s failing health. In September, a day before his birthday, he had to be hospitalized due to an upper respiratory infection, she said. “My baby is only three years old. He almost died in this house,” she said, breaking into tears. “Who’s going to help us?” Kenya Smith, Acacia’s supportive housing director whose name appears on the 311 form Poindexter signed, declined to comment. A spokesman for the non-profit said it was altering its protocols after learning of the letter.
“We have come to learn the letter in question was indeed written by a staffer at Acacia. The decision to write this letter was unauthorized and Acacia Network has taken immediate disciplinary actions,” the spokesman said. “Acacia will re-evaluate the internal protocols to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Javier Monroy, a Five Stars property manager who oversees 12 buildings, noted that the form with the 311 stipulation is on Acacia letterhead and “was not drafted by us.”
“Nor were the suggested stipulations requested or suggested by us,” he added. “Requiring a tenant’s promise to not call 311 was NOT a condition of our renewing her lease, and would never be a condition of renewing any of our tenants’ leases.” He added that while “Five Star (sic) manages the property,” it’s Acacia that is responsible “for the challenging task of helping individuals with various challenges maintain their housing stability including by ensuring they comply with their obligations.”
Before moving into the Wakefield building, Poindexter, who said she’s on medication to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, lived in a homeless shelter. She now fears she and her three sons will be forced back into the shelter system — and doesn’t know where her kittens will go. “I’m scared,” she said. “It’s not fair that they’re allowed to treat tenants this way.”