Homeowners Displaced by Bed Stuy Collapse Remain in Limbo

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Dara Furlow was given six hours to pack up everything for herself and her three daughters before vacating the Bed Stuy home she’s owned for the past decade. It was October 13, the day after illegal excavation work two doors down caused a shared foundation wall to collapse.

“A chimney fell from the top, and when it came down into the bottom, it disturbed the foundation,” said Omri Ben-Mashiah, the Long Island developer who was having work done at the now-collapsed 95 Quincy Street. “The wall on the side crumbled with old bricks.”

There was an immediate evacuation of 95 and 97 Quincy Street that day, October 12, with the evacuation of 93 and 99 Quincy the next day. Over the past three weeks, residents have been allowed in for short periods of time — just 30 minutes or so — to retrieve additional belongings. But their fates remain in limbo.

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The DOB issued an emergency demolition order for 95 and 97 Quincy after the foundation was compromised, records show. But the buildings still stand, as do evacuation orders on the neighboring structures.

The city’s Housing, Preservation & Development department took over the lots after the collapse and solicited bids for the demo work. HPD spokeswoman Juliet Morris said demolition could start as early as this week.

In the meantime, Furlow, 45, sent her three daughters to live part time at their father’s home and part time with her and her sister in Clinton Hill. But the collapse has put more than her family life on hold.

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Dana Furlow looking at the space once used for her business

Furlow’s business — the artisanal gift shop With Love From Brooklyn — was based in her now-vacant home at 99 Quincy Street. She was not able to relocate operations until last week, when her business insurance finally came through and the DOB granted her permission to move her materials (she had to have an engineer on site).

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Movers pack up Furlow’s business, With Love From Brooklyn

Furlow’s tenants, a couple, are staying with a friend. Then there are the canceled Airbnb reservations.

“My home is a big part of my income,” Furlow said, adding that the holiday season is when she makes 90 percent of her annual revenue.

“Plus, I don’t know what will happen to my house. HPD and DOB have said that the demolition will only be done up to code. That will leave me with the side of my house exposed, just covered in plywood and waterproofing.”

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Tenants at 99 Quincy Street, Jackie and Evan Vorono, removing belongings. They are staying at a friend’s apartment during the evacuation order on the building

The four homes were built before the Civil War and were meant to stand together, Furlow said.

The construction work at 95 Quincy already had several DOB violations before the collapse, said Sinclair Smith, an industrial and interior designer who owns 93 Quincy. He purchased his home in 2013 and was also renovating, he said.

DOB records show four violations from a July inspection of the now-collapsed 95 Quincy Street. Those violations were resolved, but 10 new ones were added between October 12 and October 26, including failure to protect adjoining structures, failure to provide reinforcements and work not conforming to approved construction documents.

“We expressed concern [to Ben-Mashiah] that there would be a collapse,” Smith said, adding that “every other day, the DOB inspector is looking in the window, asking questions.”

Before construction, Ben-Mashiah said he had an engineer look at the building as well as “a few private guys, but I can’t discuss the findings.”

Ben-Mashiah said he had another call when asked about the DOB violations.

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Building collapses are surprisingly common in Brooklyn, where 19th century row houses were built together and rely on each other for support. In 2010, illegal foundation work at a brownstone  at 329 Macdonough Street caused a collapse and an emergency evacuation of it and the house next to it at No. 329.

The DOB said both houses would be torn down but preservationists and local bigwigs stepped in to save the row, which is on one of the finest landmarked blocks in Stuy Heights and counts many prominent people among its residents, including retired politician Al Vann. Both houses were repaired and now no one would ever know there was a problem.

A brownstone at 241 Carroll Street in Carroll Gardens collapsed unexpectedly in 2012 and was torn down and rebuilt as condos. The house had originally been attached to another row house that had been torn down years before to make way for a school. Apparently the one-time party wall lacked sufficient support and had been deteriorating for years without anyone noticing.

Those are just two of many examples. Vibrations from digging foundations for new construction nearby can also easily damage 19th century brick buildings, which are rarely reinforced.

That was the case at two tenement buildings at 418-420 Melrose Street in Bushwick in 2012. Ominous cracks appeared in the buildings’ walls, and tenants were evacuated and lost their homes, thanks to new construction down the street at 424 Melrose Street.

For owners, home insurance is crucial. But for Smith and Furlow on Quincy Street in Bed Stuy, thus far their home insurance companies have been unable to do anything for them as their buildings have not technically been damaged…yet.

“They’ve completely undermined our party wall, the foundation. Without approval,” Smith said. “One concern is as they separate the houses, if anything dropped into the pit or moved or destabilized it or the ground shifts, the foundation wall could give out.”

Smith, Furlow and Antoinette Smith, owner of 97 Quincy, have retained lawyers but have not yet filed any lawsuits.

Darrell Chambers, 47, who is Antoinette Smith’s godson, had been living at 97 Quincy. An artist and screenwriter, he lost his home — owned by his family for more than 70 years — and can’t access most of his belongings. He had been living with a brother in Queens, but recently contacted the Red Cross for assistance.

“My whole life is in this neighborhood,” Chambers said. “This is 2015. Human beings have figured out how to build by now. This should not even be close to happening.”

[Photos: Donna M. Airoldi]

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