Drug crime is rife in areas of Hell’s Kitchen — and residents and business owners in the neighborhood are saying enough is enough.
In a highly-charged email sent to city agencies and community leaders, a group led by David Stuart, President of the HK45/46 St Block Association, has issued an ultimatum — with a four-week deadline to tackle the out-of-control drug crime plaguing Hell’s Kitchen and outlining an aggressive course of action aimed at hot spots of drug activity, in particular 353 W45th Street.
The email includes emotive and hard-hitting quotes from locals, including:
- “I see people urinating, defecating, or performing public sex acts, shooting up and ODing on a near daily basis” (Resident).
- “They come into our store, they’re high. They act erratically and the place clears out. We are forced to let them stay now because when we ask them to leave or ask them to step outside they become angry or erratic” (Business Owner/Manager).
- “Our sidewalks and streets are covered in piles of trash and human filth left by drug users. Building owners aren’t cleaning it up. It’s affecting our business” (Business Owner).
- “People are always on the steps, strung out or using drugs. I walked past a woman with a needle dangling from her arm last week. It makes me a little on edge if I am by myself. We don’t let anyone around there at all late at night.” (Local Business Owners and Employees)
According to the concerned citizens, crimes include open drug dealing, theft and aggressive panhandling. Drug paraphernalia and human waste litter the streets, creating a health hazard and a haven for rats.
The email calls for an immediate, public, multi-agency investigation at 353-357 W45th Street. Allegations claim the building, owned by notorious slumlord Steve Croman, is home to a drug dealing ring, squatters and prostitution. Croman was jailed in 2017 and in a separate civil case was stripped of his right to manage his property portfolio for five years. In January this year, he again took control of his property empire, much to the dismay of tenants.
“We are calling on you for immediate, substantive and effective action to put an end to the out-of-control drug crime occurring in Hell’s Kitchen and the ancillary impacts this type of crime has on our community,” said Stuart.
“Our goal here is to partner with you to develop and execute a solution within four weeks, but please be aware that we will not tolerate inaction or lethargic action. Our community is no longer going to live with drug crime, and the filth, degradation and fear such crimes promulgate!” If the deadline is not met, there are plans to release a hard-hitting video of “drug dealing, drug use, and the filth and degradation occurring at 353 W45th Street and across our community” and to hold a press conference outside the property.
“Our community has reached a tipping point. We’re fed up. We’re angry. We’re scared. It’s time to affect change at a higher level,” said Stuart in the email.
“I spoke with Attorney General Letitia James’s office, as well as Inspector O’Connell, and both are eager to participate in our meeting regarding this extremely problematic location. We will also pull together staff from Mayor Adams’ office, as well as the Department of Sanitation and other stakeholders, such as the NYPD narcotics unit,” said councilmember Erik Bottcher in an email. “All the relevant agencies need to come up with a coordinated plan to address this ASAP.”
“I absolutely agree the situation at 353-357 W45th needs an immediate all hands-on-deck approach to ensure the illicit activities there are put to an end and the multi-agency approach Erik is organizing can be utilized for other known hotspots in HK. I and my office will fully participate and lend all the support we can to these actions,” said assemblymember Tony Simone.
At Midtown North’s police precinct community meeting last week, residents reported an increase in the use of injection-based drugs in Hell’s Kitchen. The Department of Sanitation cleaned up more than 90,000 needles in the past year — an increase of over 20,000 from fiscal year 2022.
The landlord of 353 W45th Street is Steve Croman, listed in the Village Voice’s 10 worst landlords. In 2017, he pleaded guilty to grand larceny, tax fraud, and filing a false financial document and was sentenced to eight months in prison, along with a $5 million fine. In 2015, tenants of Croman’s properties in Hell’s Kitchen leveled allegations of harassment at him, citing a prolonged disruption to gas services that lasted several months.
Back in 2016, Croman was the feature of a New York Times Editorial Board opinion piece “Tenants vs Landlords from Hell” — seems like not much has changed…