The Auburndale Civic Association is refusing to abandon hope that four vacant and forgotten homes will cease to be a blight on their community.
The four attached, two-family houses, located on 198th Street, have been empty since being built several years ago, according to Henry Euler, president of Auburndale Civic.
“They have been laying there empty for about four or five years, and the property has deteriorated,” said Euler. “There is garbage all over, the vegetation is growing out of control and there are broken windows and doors. This makes the community look terrible, and I think this affects the property value. The neighboring people keep their homes beautifully and it is unfair to them to have to look at this.”
Euler says the garages below two of the homes – located at 47-04 and 47-08 198th Street – are currently open, posing a serious threat to public safety.
“It’s dangerous. Some kid is going to get in there and get hurt,” he said. “We are also concerned that a homeless person may go in there and start a fire.”
Despite repeated calls to the Department of Buildings (DOB) to complain about the situation, Euler says he has yet to see positive results.
“A property owner must maintain his site in a safe and lawful manner at all times, but those responsible for this location have repeatedly failed to do so,” said a DOB spokesperson. “As a result, the department has issued more than 30 violations and ordered repair work for the fence. Anyone with a concern should call 3-1-1.”
Due to the lack of progress produced by the DOB, Euler was prompted to seek assistance from local elected officials, including Councilmember Daniel Halloran.
“It is an eyesore to begin with, but more importantly, it creates a safety hazard,” said the councilmember, who is attempting to arrange a community cleanup of the area. “When you have property like that, it becomes an attractive location for kids, squatters and crimes.”
Halloran, who says he has been in continual contact with the DOB, believes the city lacks the enforcement ability to deal with these issues.
“The city is more focused on hammering a homeowner who has a finished basement and takes care of the rest of his property than attacking these developers who aren’t taking care of their properties and allow these things to happen,” said Halloran. “The average homeowner doesn’t want his property to have a violation on it. But these owners don’t care and have no incentive to pay until their project is done.”
Helen Meskouris, who lives directly next to the abandoned houses, says she is unsure what else she can do to change the desolate vista she views each time she emerges from her front door.
“This is dreadful,” said the 84-year-old, who moved into her Auburndale home in 1956. “People are getting brazen. I see people dump their garbage here. There used to be a wooden fence, but I think they used the cheapest wood they could find because the fence is down now. I also have had problems with mice because of the trash that is next door. It is not safe, and it’s just not pleasant.”
Meskouris says she too has reached out to elected officials and attended community meetings to voice her complaints – all to no avail.
“I don’t know whether I should just give up,” she said. “I don’t know when it is going to end – if it will extend past the end of my life or if it will end soon.”