Following a building collapse in Woodhaven that sent a storm of bricks crashing into an area often packed with vehicles and pedestrians during rush hour on Friday, April 12, area residents are mobilizing to gather data about neighborhood buildings in an effort to prevent a similar situation.
“It’s really aggravating because there’s an open complaint for this building in which they said, ‘hey, this could collapse,’” Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association President Ed Wendell said of the building at 78-19 Jamaica Ave. that collapsed around 6:15 pm., causing a car to be crushed and bringing scores of firefighters and other emergency responders to the area. “From the time they discovered the building could collapse to the time it did collapse, what happened? This city does not seem good at looking at its failures and saying, ‘this is where we went wrong.’”
A city Department of Buildings spokeswoman said the investigation into the collapse is ongoing, and no cause has yet been determined. She did not respond to a question regarding residents’ concerns about the structure’s existing open complaints. The property has 11 registered violations, nine of which remain open, according to city records. The owner is facing more than $18,000 in outstanding fines, and the city has issued a number of citations at the property, including for illegal plumbing work, work without a permit, and structural stability infractions.
While no one was hurt in the collapse, Wendell said residents clearly do not want a repeat situation of the same magnitude – or worse – and he and a couple other individuals have begun to collect data from the city Department of Buildings about nearby buildings’ code violations. While the data collection is still in a preliminary stage, the information could be used to pressure city officials to try to mitigate what could escalate into a dangerous situation – such as a collapsed building.
“I’ve looked at 38 buildings on Jamaica Avenue so far, and out of 38 buildings I found 79 open violations,” Wendell said. “There were about two open violations per building… A lot of the violations are from the 1990s. How up to date are the city’s records on this stuff if we’ve got violations that are decades old?”
The April 12 incident resulted in damage to the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps’ kitchen and rear exit, as well as forced the Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services Woodhaven Senior Center to temporarily shut its doors. Seniors are now taking shuttle buses from All Nations Baptist Church at 80th Street and 87th Avenue to the Catholic Charities Senior Center in Ozone Park at 103-02 101 Ave.
“All Nations Baptist Church couldn’t have been any nicer to our seniors,” said Debbie Hoffer, director of operations for the Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services Older Adult Programs. “They were fantastic.”
Seniors may be able to return to the Woodhaven facility as early as next week, depending on when the city lifts the vacate order for their building, Hoffer said.
“We won’t return the seniors until everything is perfect,” she said.
By Anna Gustafson