Journal News year-end update of the situation in the Ramapo Hamlets.
“Billy Cuomo and his wife are throwing in the towel and plan on moving after 37 years of living in a town-owned house in the secluded Hamlets of Ramapo.
They and their neighbors are facing the inevitable, as Ramapo officials are leaning toward eventually selling the 20 acres of Torne Valley land where more than a dozen families live, to slash expenses and get out of the landlord business.
“I don’t want to give up my homestead,” said Cuomo, a 70-year-old retired machinist and school custodian. “But I can’t live like this with the uncertainty of month to month. I’d like to stay another seven or eight years. I don’t know how much time I really have.”
The Cuomos and other residents of the tight-knit community see an uncertain future living along the mostly dirt road of Lake Street, surrounded by forest and the Ramapough Mountains outside Hillburn and Sloatsburg in the western sector of Ramapo.
The tenants were sent eviction letters in October giving them until Nov. 30 to leave, though the town has not gone to court to force out the families. Town officials are willing to help them relocate in 2018, and not charge them rent.
Cuomo and his neighbors said the town has been a delinquent landlord since buying the 20 acres from the Ramapo Land Co. in 2009 when it comes to making repairs on the 17 houses and collecting rent. With two families recently moving out, 13 of the homes are occupied, they said.
They believe Ramapo officials when they say they want to sell the land for commercial use, such as warehousing, even as a new supervisor and councilman take office Jan. 1. The cost of repairing the houses could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, officials said.
And the tenants remain skeptical of officials who offer hope. Councilman Brendel Logan-Charles, the deputy supervisor, met with them, apologized for the premature eviction letters and said she plans on overseeing inspections starting in January to determine the safety of the small, wood-framed houses dating to the 1850s.
“First, they lied to us,” said Robert Heddy, a 50-year tenant who turns 80 in April. “They’ve lost all credibility with me. She talks to us and then says she doesn’t know if she has the votes to allow us to stay. This is done. This is in the books. They want this property for something else.”
The evictions would allow the town to seek bids on the estimated 20 acres. The sale would lead to the destruction of the homes, where iron factory workers once lived after toiling at the local plants.
Specht, a longtime assistant town attorney who won election in November to succeed Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, ousted as supervisor in May after nearly 17 years after being convicted of federal securities fraud charges, said he wants to put together a strategy.
“Nobody has a right to stay in a rental place forever no matter who is the landlord,” Specht said. “The town being a landlord is not a good solution. It’s taxpayer money we’re dealing with and we can’t tie the town’s hands forever.”
Specht quickly adds, “There are no plans to remove anyone. If anyone leaves in the immediate future, it will be voluntary. I don’t want to say what’s going to happen within a year.”
For the families, the idea of moving is heartbreaking.
Some have grown up in the community and have raised children in the Torne Valley, swam in the nearby Ramapo River, and called a once open field their playground.
Rick Hershner said he and his wife Bernice have not heard from any town officials for months. Hershner, 64, a retired machinist, has lived in the hamlets for 23 years. His wife has called the hamlets home for 50 years.
“They told us to enjoy the holiday and they didn’t say much about anything else,” Hershner said. “If she (Logan-Charles) doesn’t have the board’s backing, you shouldn’t say you are going to be there for us. She had the right intentions. It’s politics. We’re kinda waiting to see what happens. We’re hoping for the best.”
The tenants and houses came with the property when Ramapo bought 65 acres for $5 million in May, 2009. The purchase was part of a St. Lawrence-led spree to buy up thousands of acres of Torne Valley for preservation. The town bought 18 contiguous areas called Black Oak Estates in 2009, as well.”
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