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Morris Heights Non-Profit Under Fire

May 8, 2008

A non-profit in Morris Heights, whose job it is to manage 10 area apartment buildings, is in such financial strife that it can no longer afford to maintain its apartments, pay the superintendents, or keep up with bills, say those with knowledge of the organization.

Whether Bronx Heights Neighborhood Community Corporation’s troubles should be put down to gross incompetence or something more sinister is unclear. But HPD, the city agency that owns the buildings and that authorizes Bronx Heights to collect the rent, sees something amiss: they’ve started legal proceedings against the group.

On May 7, Community Board 5 held a meeting with HPD, Con Edison, tenants, and representatives of Bronx elected officials, to address what CB5′s district manager Xavier Rodriguez is calling “a crisis.”

Bronx Heights

This reporter visited several of Bronx Heights’ buildings to see firsthand the scope of the problem.

At 62-66 W. Tremont Ave., Bronx Heights’ largest building, tenants said the super was doing the best he could. But they complained about rats in their apartments; intermittent heat and hot water; and about management’s reluctance to help without repairs. “They [the management company] don’t fix nothing, it gets you frustrated,” said tenant Kha Mohammad.

As it stands, 62-66 is carrying substantial debt. The building’s water bill, for example, hasn’t been paid since September 2003, and comes in at a whopping $336,000. Bronx Heights has also missed oil payments – hence the interruptions in heat and hot water. In March, HPD started providing emergency fuel to 62-66 along with five other Bronx Heights buildings, said an HPD spokesperson.

At 1702 and 1694 Davidson Avenue, the situation seems especially precarious. On May 7, Con Edison cut off the electricity in the corridors and stairwells. The hot water was also turned off. As of noon on May 8, none of these services have been restored. Juan Fernandez, the buildings’ superintendent, said it’s been difficult for him perform his duties recently, because Bronx Heights hasn’t been supplying the necessary materials. He added that he hasn’t been paid for six weeks, because his bi-weekly check keeps bouncing. “I have a family [to look after] – four daughters,” he said.

Super

Further complicating the crisis at Bronx Heights, is a bitter feud between three of the newer board members and longtime board member, Gloria DevineBhutta.

The newer members – Monica McDermott, Dorothy Williams, and Maureen Chung – all want DevineBhutta gone.

When McDermott, the volunteer treasurer, joined Bronx Heights in January, she was amazed to find the buildings’ accounts all but empty, she says. “It was absolutely incredible,” she said. “Somewhere, funds have been misappropriated.”

The women stop short of accusing DevineBhutta of stealing money, but they’ve made it clear they don’t trust her. And in April, they tried to remove her from the board by saying she’d broken the organization’s bylaws by hiring a paid member of staff behind their backs.

DevineBhutta refused to leave and has taken it upon herself to hire a new board. – one that doesn’t include McDermott, Chung, and Williams. She’s also changed the locks to the office, so that only she can get in, and given herself the title of “volunteer executive director.” (The organization only has two paid office staff. Most responsibilities, therefore, fall to volunteers.)

DevineBhutta, who wasn’t invited to the May meeting, didn’t respond to several requests for comment. But one of the supers, Mohammad Bhutta (no relation, he says), insists she’s got the best interests of the organization at heart.

“It’s only Ms. Bhutta that’s looking out for the good of this agency,” Bhutta said, adding that a few “bad apples” are trying to destroy it.

But it’s not just Bronx Heights’ board members who are questioning DevineBhutta’s integrity. In November last year, Bronx Heights’ then accountant, Ramjit Hemraj, wrote a strongly worded letter to DevineBhutta saying: “I do not know the reason why you are withholding current year records… your bookkeeping records must be up-to-date in order for Bronx Heights Neighborhood Community Corp. to survive.”

At last week’s meeting, HPD agreed to begin paying the buildings’ electricity bills. “We will step up to the plate,” said HPD’s Gary Sloman, until the legal proceeding are resolved. But that’s all that was agreed upon. Sloman said that HPD can’t determine disputes over who is, and who isn’t, the real board at Bronx Heights.

CB5′s Rodriguez, for his part, just wants to see services returned to these buildings. “We have 276 innocent tenants who don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “It has reached crisis proportions.”

By JAMES FERGUSSON of the Mount Hope Monitor

Comments

One Response to “Morris Heights Non-Profit Under Fire”

  1. Gretchen Simmons on May 13th, 2009 2:58 pm

    To be frank, Devine Bhutta is a fraud and a theft. She has no loyalty to anyone but herself. After reading your article, I noticed Mohammed Bhutta comments and he is probably taking the money with her. They are quite related as Devine is married to his father which would make Mohammed her Son-In-Law.

    My deceased grandmother had worked in this organization for over 25 years as their Community Organizer. She spent her life dedicated to this community and its tenants. After becoming ill and not being paid timely she finally gave up in May 2008 and discontinued her employment with them. To date, Bronx Heights still owes her in upwards of $3000 in back-pay not to mention bank fees and penalties for bounced checks. I attempted to speak with Devine Bhutta many times about this matter to no avail. She is withholding information and doesn’t communicate with the other board members. She needs to be thrown under the JAIL!!

    At my grandmothers funeral, she tried to be sincere but it is all a lie. Only thing Devine about her must be that Bhutta she’s smoking. I only have one thing to say to her.. GO TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET BHUTTA!! My attorney will be in touch and the Supers of these building should all do the same. Call the EEOC, CALL HPD, call whomever you have too – Don’t let her take advantage of the situation any longer. Because, quiet as kept, her bills are getting paid and then some.

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