Cracks in streets and sidewalks are commonplace among homes at the Villamaria development. Photo by Fausto Giovanny Pinto.

Longwood area homes plagued by shoddy construction

Substandard construction by an irresponsible developer is to blame for the rapid deterioration of a 114-home development between Fox and Beck Streets near East 149th Street and Prospect Ave., according to city officials.

The value of their homes is sinking as fast as their backyards, the homeowers say. .

Retired Verizon worker John DeRiggs, who bought his two-family house at the Villa Maria Homes after the first homes were built in 1990, first noticed a crack in the concrete walkway a few years ago. The first-time homeowner thought nothing of it, and quickly patched up the crack with tar. A short time later, he noticed another crack. Then the railing by his front door began to separate from its base.

Soon, his neighbors began complaining of similar problems.

Then DeRiggs’ backyard began to sink.

“This is our first home; we work hard to maintain it,” said DeRiggs, who is paying tuition for a son in college while taking care of his elderly father. “You make little repairs here and there, hoping it would help.”

The steps to DeRiggs’ front and back doorways have fallen nearly a foot. He has tried to save his air conditioning and heating units by mounting them on cinderblocks in the sinking backyard, but is worried they will eventually sink, too.

An engineer from the city’s Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development recently came to assess the damage, DeRiggs said, and told him, “Whoever did this property should be in jail.”

The spiral staircase that connects Patricia Zambrano’s Fox Street upstairs apartment to her backyard, dangles precariously from the exterior wall, despite recent repairs.

She had the yard paved with concrete to avoid mishaps like the one that happened to her husband. Six years ago he was mowing the lawn when “he just fell in up to his knees,” said Zambrano. “We had children play back here. We never use it now.”

Numerous residents in the development have complained that the problems are getting worse. An external staircase became detached from one home and fell onto an adjacent house. Sidewalks are dangerously uneven.

Cracked pavement has left some parking spaces unusable along Fox and Beck streets. A major sewage problem took over a decade and almost $1 million in city money to fix. Several homeowners have paid out of their own pockets to make repairs.

But while the city is helping with repairs for some of the homeowners, the developer responsible for the mess is making himself scarce.

“Unfortunately the poor workmanship and lack of professionalism by the original developer has left these homeowners with significant issues that need to be resolved,” said Eric Bederman, a spokesman for the city’s housing department, which partnered with the developer on the project 22 years ago, in an effort to provide lower-income residents a chance to own their own homes.

The developer is nowhere to be found, Bederman added. In addition, the 20-year warranty expired two years ago.

Deluxe Development of New York is listed as the developer on a worn-out sign, partially obscured by tall weeds at the corner of Prospect Ave. and Fox St.

A faded sign for Villa Maria Homes at the corner of Prospect Ave. and Fox St.

When Villa Maria was built, Deluxe Development of New York was a subsidiary of Deluxe Homes of Pa., now named Deluxe Building Systems, Inc. On its website, that company lists the work of “DD of NY” in the Bronx on a resume of its accomplishments.

But a spokesman for the Pennsylvania-based parent company denied that there is any relationship between Deluxe Building Systems and Deluxe Development of New York.

“That company is not in place. We did own it at one place and time, like many companies,” said John Erb of Deluxe Building Systems.

“No one has been in contact with us about any issues,” he added.

Over $1.5 million has been raised for repairs at Villa Maria, said Bederman, adding that the offices of the Bronx Borough President and City Councilwoman Maria Del Carmen Arroyo have chipped in. Work is slated to begin soon, he said.

“No one who buys a home should have to deal with this. These are working families,” said Councilwoman Arroyo.

For homeowners, waiting for repairs to begin while wondering if anyone will be held responsible for the broken promises, the wait is agonizing.

“This was our first home. I moved in when I was 25,” said Zambrano, who estimates she has spent $15,000 of her own money on repairs. “We never wanted to move. I want to die here. Plus, my property is devalued and how will I ever pass an inspection to sell?”

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