A Press special report
Party lawyer has record of feasting on foreclosure
Courthouse patronage: Second in a series
By Lindsay Armstrong
This series on courthouse patronage in the Bronx was reported and written by a class on investigative journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Contributors include: Lindsay Armstrong, Carla Astudillo, Sean Carlson, Tristan Hallman, Jacob Hodes, Alex Robinson, Rachel Sapin, Jorteh Senah, Joe Stepansky, Emma Thorne, and Kate Trafecante. Adam Wisnieski and Kate Pastor of the Press provided additional reporting and editing.
Howard Vargas Properties
Johannie Burdier has lived at 2239 Creston Ave. in Fordham Heights for nine years. In that time, she has put up with leaks, missing steps, a faulty boiler and a bathroom ceiling that collapsed four times.
“The front door is broken so it’s unlocked all of the time,” Ms. Burdier said. “People come in to do drugs, urinate, do personal things. Why should I have to bring my 12-year-old daughter into the building and walk through a crowd of people smoking marijuana?”
When the 28-unit building went into foreclosure in 2011, the court appointed a receiver to manage the property. Ms. Burdier hoped conditions would improve, but nothing changed.
During the receiver’s 20-month tenure, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development has added more than 30 violations to the building’s already long list of infractions. Almost half of them were classified as immediately hazardous.
“There has never been a big difference no matter who is running the building,” Ms. Burdier said. “No one has really done anything to help.”
A visit to the building this week revealed that the lock on the front door was broken. Tenants complained of having no hot water, of garbage piling up behind the building, of fecal matter in the hallway and about an out-of-control rat population. Walls were covered in graffiti, including some messages from frustrated tenants: “We need heat. Turn on the hot water.”
The Creston Avenue building is one of several troubled properties under the supervision of Howard Vargas.
Mr. Vargas, a lawyer with strong ties to the Bronx Democratic Party, has netted more than $350,000 in fees over the past decade thanks to a steady stream of court-appointed positions. Some of that lucrative work has come in the form of receiverships.
But the properties he’s been charged with managing have not always done as well. Of the 24 buildings Mr. Vargas was appointed to supervise, five were placed on a list of the city’s most distressed properties during the receivership.
Despite those problems, Bronx judges have continued to appoint Mr. Vargas as a receiver.
KeywordsHoward Vargas, JLP Metro Management, Louis Popovic, Anton Popovic, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Bronx Democratic Party, Lindsay Armstrong