East Orange Tenants Facing Squalid Conditions in Gentrification Move

The rooftop at 75 Prospect Street. Credit: Darren Tobia

Last summer, a 25-year-old woman was assaulted in an elevator at 75 Prospect Street in East Orange where she lives. The neighbors believe the perpetrator snuck into the building though a broken door in the basement. The tenant association reported the issue to the landlord. But it’s just another problem on a long list of things that remains unaddressed.

75 Prospect Street. Credit: Darren Tobia.

“Be careful when you’re down here,” Erica Coleman warns another tenant, a teenage girl, who is pulling clothes out of the dryer in the basement.

Last year, OneWall Communities sold the historic building, constructed in 1928, to Platinum Management. Since then, life inside the 10-story apartment tower has become unbearable, Coleman said. Broken doors and elevators. Burst pipes. Collapsed ceilings. A homeless couple having sex in a storage closet. “When these things start happening, we wonder, is this the way they’re trying to get us out?” Coleman told the Four Oranges.

The residents first discovered the landlord’s intention to subdivide the 45 apartments into 90 units when it appeared on the city’s planning board agenda. Then, in September, the residents received eviction notices, which they are contesting in court. “We’re all fighting for the same thing,” Coleman said.

Other problems have arisen because of the lack of security — a string of thefts. In one week, Shaunisa Walker had a package stolen and another tampered with. “There used to be a security camera,” said Walker, who moved into the building almost two years ago. “Since management changed hands, it’s been horrible.”

Crossings at Brick Church. Credit: Minno & Wasko

Meanwhile, a massive 820-unit development centered around the nearby Brick Church train station is driving up real estate values. The city’s elected officials believe it will bring long-awaited improvements to the city’s downtown. But the tenants at 75 Prospect Street are beginning to feel they no longer factor in to the city’s gentrified future.

“If it happened in Harlem and Bed-Stuy, it can happen here,” said LeGrand Quick, who has lived in the building for 16 years.

Quick, whose daughter was the one assaulted in the elevator, believes the landlord is using “scare tactics.” But he said he won’t budge without a fight. “It’s only going to make me persevere more,” Quick said.

Landlords have a long history of “pillaging” the city, according to James Hughes, a real estate broker with Compass and president of the East Orange Historical Society. “I have witnessed in towns like East Orange and Orange historically black towns, not as affluent, these kind of practices by corporate property owners,” said Hughes, who has also witnessed a number of suspicious fires happening in the Oranges. “The end game is displacement. When you displace people with fire or by the conditions —  that’s gentrification.”

Current damage at 75 Prospect Street. Credit: Tenant Association.

This isn’t the first time Platinum Management has come under fire. In July, News 12 Hudson Valley shined light on an elevator in the building that remained broken for an entire month. They profiled the treacherous journeys — over the building’s rooftop and down dark and narrow staircases — that elderly and disabled residents Yvonne Mitchell and Denise Wright had to endure just to get home.

Platinum Management’s Effy Tilman told News 12 that the tenant’s charge of purposeful neglect is “100 percent incorrect.” “We’ve spent thousands of dollars on day to day maintenance,” said Tilman, adding that half of the tenants don’t pay their rent on time.

But Patricia Castillo, who has lived in the building since 2016, said there are two sides to that story. “The majority of us don’t pay rent so that they take us to court — because that’s the only time they come and fix things,” Castillo said. “Is it fair we’re being pushed out? That we don’t have a choice to stay here and be part of the improvement that East Orange is going through?”

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