On February 8th, a tenant from 40 Oak Street / 23 West Street, an affordable housing lottery building that shares two addresses in Greenpoint’s new West Wharf complex, was outside smoking when they saw a woman in distress. By then, 40 Oak/23 West had had enough package thefts that everyone was on guard. Word was going around that the building’s management company, Halcyon, tried charging a tenant $160 just to view the surveillance camera. So, this tenant wanted to make sure the woman was there for good reason.

The woman said she was there looking for her son, that she hadn’t seen him in months, that her inquiries to the management weren’t being answered. They bumped into the superintendent, who took them up to the fourth floor and opened the room where her son had been staying. 

“There were a lot of flies by the window,” the tenant recalled. “But there wasn’t really an odor to me.” 

Not like the complaints back in November, when other tenants posted on the building’s message board that the floor had “a smell of death,” like it was “a dead rodent or animal.” On this February day, it was only the flies, until they checked the bathroom. 

It’s unclear how long the body had been there.


The deceased had come from a shelter, and the city had been paying his rent, giving Halcyon no reason to be suspicious. It’s still uncertain if the awful smell that had been permeating the fourth floor was from the decomposition, or from the constant trash build-up that’d become such a nuisance other residents were embarrassed to bring guests in. For the tenants of 40 Oak/23 West, the body became the symbol of the larger neglect they’d long been experiencing under Halcyon.

“A lot of families moved here with a hope of change. They left the home they had loved for something that isn’t true,” said one tenant, who wished to remain anonymous. “It’s like they sold a dream to us.”

From the pier jutting out from Transmitter Park, just past the Skyline Drive-In but before it hooks into the soon-to-be-refurbished Bushwick Inlet Park, you can barely make out the sliver of newly-opened public waterfront. Behind them are the new towers that justified Halcyon’s expense. 

The market-rate high rise closer to the shore, known as West Wharf, is a 40-story glass-clad tower with 554 units and a marketing slogan of “More Than Meets the Waterfront.” The amenities include:

“a landscaped rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline; a state-of-the-art fitness center; a spa with steam rooms, saunas, experience shower, hot tub, cold plunge tub, whirlpool, marble-lined hammam, and a salt inhalation and meditation room; a lounge with a fireplace; a billiards room; a dedicated concierge service to assist residents with their daily needs and handle package deliveries. Other amenities include co-working hub; bike storage; indoor and outdoor pools; indoor basketball courts; bowling alley; two PGA golf simulators; music room and podcast/recording studio; a children’s walk-in wading pool, indoor playroom, and teen game room; pet grooming station; package room with refrigerated storage, resident storage, parking garage with electric vehicle charging stations, and two screening rooms with media lounge.”

Rents run between $3,483 for a studio to $12,833 for a 2 bed/2 bath with a balcony. It will soon be accompanied by another building of similar height and stated luxury. 

Behind it is a squatter building without the fancy trim. It rises 14 floors and has 216 units. As a housing lottery building, tenants must earn within a limited income bracket, and rents go between $1,528 for a studio and $1,955 for a two bedroom. This building was part of a 421-A tax abatement agreement that incentivized Halcyon—which, in 2016, was criticized for shoddy utilities in one of their new luxury buildings in Borough Park—to build the high rises. It doesn’t have nearly the same amenities. 

Tenants were told they’d get access to a “rec room,” a space on the first floor of 23 West with opaque windows that was locked up when I viewed it, where they could host their own events, but the story changed when residents signed their lease. “Then they said there is no rec room, that you’re not gonna have access to any rec rooms,” said Deanna Figurito, the founder of a life coaching and consulting agency. (In a statement, Halcyon told Greenpointers that the “resident lounge is scheduled to open this summer for use.”)

For Figurito, winning the affordable lottery was supposed to end her long struggle to find stabilized housing in New York City.

After meeting her husband during a stint in Peru, the couple tried to move back to the U.S. but, at the border, he was detained for 10 hours then banned from entry for five years. She moved back to Peru, COVID hit, they had a child, fought the ban, and eventually returned to family in Long Island. There, they applied for the housing lottery, but when they learned their application had been deprioritized due to where they lived, they found temporary housing in Greenpoint and got reprioritized. They were selected for an apartment in 40 Oak, and moved in October 1st of 2023.

“We were finally ready to get stable here,” Figurito said. “And there were just a slew of problems from the beginning.” 

The first indication that something was wrong came on move-in day. “I noticed there was an odor downstairs where the trash compactor is,” Figurito said. “And there was a terrible trash odor in the apartment.” This lack of trash collection has continued to be a common complaint among tenants.

“They don’t collect the garbage, to the point that, at various times in a month, they’ll have trash stacked up all the way to the third floor, to where you can’t put trash,” said a tenant who wished to remain anonymous. “There is a terrible rotten garbage odor in the lobby, and even in the elevators.”

Other tenants found similar immediate indications that the lottery win wasn’t without certain caveats.

“The day I moved in, it was 10,000 degrees in the hallway, it was like hell-on-earth hot,” said Clint Asay, a mental health counselor who moved into the building in July of 2022. 

“There were holes in the wall, the apartment was dirty. The refrigerator and sink were filthy. The tub was filthy. They didn’t clean it, they didn’t turn the apartment over at all,” said another tenant who wished to remain anonymous. “And then on day one, I got trapped in the elevator.”

Since March 20th, there have been sixteen 311 complaints regarding “elevators” at 40 Oak Street and 23 West Street. Many more predate these. 

Photo of frequent elevator complaints via NYC Department of Buildings

“I’m on the 13th floor, and the last time the elevators were out, I was coming from Long Island City with a printer and $50 worth of groceries, and had to fight my way up the stairs,” said another tenant. “When I got stuck in the elevator, they told me to bang on the door. Like, there’s some mechanism that opens the door if you can apply pressure to it.”

Figurito found herself in a similar predicament with her husband and young son on New Year’s Day. 

“We were coming back from the park, and we got stuck between floors. And the emergency button was shut off because it was a holiday, I guess,” Figurito recalled. They had a phone signal, so they called the police who sent the fire department. After 45 minutes, they finally got the doors open and the family was able to shimmy out between floors. “It was so dangerous, and such a liability,” Figurito said. “Someone’s gonna end up dying. That’s what it’s gonna take to get this fixed.” 

(Halcyon responded that they “have resolved any elevator malfunctions and continue to monitor the elevators daily. All elevators are fully operational.”)

The other big problem tenants cite has to do with the water. There has been a lack of consistent hot water, low water pressure and, most strikingly, oddly colored water when it comes through the pipes. “I have pictures of green water,” Asay said. “And one person [at Halcyon] said it looks green because it’s in a white bathtub.”

“Since the day I moved in, the bathtub has been green water,” said Kirsty Reeves, a photographer who moved in November of 2022.“But the brown water is like once a week. You can actually see brown sediment, like ground particles. It varies wildly between huge particles or just an overall dirty brown. I just kind of avoid using the water.”

This problem overlaps between the housing lottery residents of 40 Oak/23 West and the market rate renters in West Wharf. Residents of West Wharf told me they have had similar water issues, while on Reddit there are threads about the water quality, along with 18 3-1-1 service requests that have been open or closed within the past five days.

(Halcyon responded that, “water to the building is supplied from city water main. On occasion, 23 West / 40 Oak Street has been impacted by brown water. The situation typically occurs when there has been a disturbance beyond our control to the water main.”)

Another problem for residents of 40 Oak/23 West, they say, is the lack of a live-in superintendent. “We have a guy who’s our acting super, but they just moved in [the super from West Wharf] into our building,” one tenant told me. “If we have a live-in super, I really don’t think the trash situation would get to what it is.” According to New York State law, any building with over nine units must have a superintendent who lives in, or within 200 feet of, the building.”

(Halcyon responded that “23 West/40 Oak Street is a fully staffed building. We also have a service line for urgent, emergency maintenance repair requests available to all residents after hours.”)

“Developers want the tax breaks but often fail to follow through on providing the same kinds of services for the affordable housing tenants as the market rate tenants,” said Dennis Donnelly, an attorney at Communities Resist, who’s helping represent the tenants. “It’s definitely an ongoing issue in newer developments that have these specific tax exemptions and rent regulatory agreements.”

Donnelly got involved in the fight after the residents organized themselves into a Tenants’ Association. “It’s something every single day that we have to deal with here,” Reeves said. “But the Tenants’ Association is the one good thing about living here, they’re the only reason at this point I want to stay.”

The Association began when Figurito hosted monthly meetings in the lobby. “I want responsible community development for the Greenpoint waterfront, and New York City period,” Figurito said. “I don’t want people to just get a tax break, I want to be able to live here safely and calmly, and to raise my family here.” At the meetings, tenants began to learn about the problems with the buildings and management that they shared in common. After the group suspected Halcyon of removing negative posts from the building’s management-run message board, they shifted communications to a different forum. Soon enough, the association formalized a request for rent reduction, and began political outreach to local representatives. 

“We have connected residents to lawyers to advocate for their rights and brought multiple City agencies on-site to conduct inspections,” said Lincoln Restler, New York City Council Member for District 33, in a statement. “We have worked with the Department of Buildings to inspect and issue summonses for malfunctioning elevators and with the Department of Environmental Protection to inspect the water supply.” 

As the wheels of housing justice move slowly, the tenants at 40 Oak/23 West must each decide what they’ll do in the meanwhile. Some say they’ll move if the right opportunity presents itself, others admit that excessive moving costs keep them locked in place, despite the subpar living conditions. “I’m not gonna move and go pay $3,000 somewhere,” said one tenant. “Like that’s not an option, that’s not sensible. I’d rather fight.” 

With three more buildings in Halcyon’s West Wharf development currently being constructed, one of them being marked as affordable, there will soon be more tenants to help the Association with their ongoing fight.

Rick Paulas is a bartender and writer who covers housing issues and lives in Greenpoint.

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  1. Excellent expose reporting. Hey, what do you want from rip off affordable housing, livable conditions?

    All jokes side, looks like there is trouble in paradise.

    My friends refer to these “affordable housing units” tucked in and shut off from the main lux. bldg. as plantation indentured servant’s quarters.

  2. I lived with my husband and daughter at 82 Marcy Ave in Williamsburg for 2 years. Horrible management company. Not as bad as this story, but they were unresponsive and we had the same issue with elevators.

    There was water damage under the floors in our apartment, and the floors started to warp. They ripped up the floors, but then left the moldy plywood underneath exposed for months until we finally stopped paying rent. We ended up taking them to court.

  3. I am leaving a rent stabilized apartment because of a neglectful management company. The building is dirty and unsafe. Currently there are hundreds of dead flies in the stairwell. It will not be cleaned until someone makes a 311 complaint and then if not anonymous the building “manager” will call and threaten the tenant for calling 311. He did that to me thinking I would be afraid of him, I am not. There needs to be stronger laws in place to deal with these slumlords. They collect our rent and do not do even minor upkeep. At this point the city needs to start confiscating these buildings, charging fines so high that it puts their business in jeopardy. The way this city is handling these cases is not good enough.

  4. As one tenet living in 40 oak street. This management company is outrageously swept us under the rug and refuse to help in any way shape or form. It’s disgusting how many good families live here with multiple children and they have zero to no explan for withholding these amenities, rec rooms, and parking to us. Our brown water and elevator breakdowns are on a weekly basis, and something needs to be done. Someone needs to be held accountable for these horrendous living conditions, such as smelling garbage the minute you step foot out your apartment.

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