In 2002, 8-year-old Jashawn Parker died in an electrical fire at 3569 DeKalb Ave. His older brother was badly burned. I, and a stellar intern named William Wichert, spent more than a year at the Norwood News looking into the dealings of a Westchester real estate operator connected to the building, Frank Palazzolo, who considered himself a “lender” rather than a landlord. We ran a lot of in-depth articles and hard-hitting editorials on Palazzolo and his associates. But there was so much going on in dozens of buildings linked to them that we only scratched the surface of what was really going on.
Last summer, nine years after the deadly fire, Tom Robbins, the great investigative reporter who is now teaching his trade at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, put out the word that he was looking for a project that his students could tackle. I pulled out a foot-high pile of documents that I kept on a shelf next to my desk, hoping to some day get back to them, and shared them with Tom. He decided to take it on and I worked with his class over the last several months on the project. The students, who spread out across the Bronx and Westchester, and buried themselves in court documents and property records, did a tremendous job reporting. The project would not have been possible without their hard work. I learned a lot myself from working with them and Tom.
There are several articles in this package, published by the great urban policy magazine City Limits, so it’s no small amount of reading. But I promise you this: It’s a great read and if you delve in, you will learn a tremendous amount about how the worst landlords often manage to get away with neglect that endangers the health and safety of tenants. Despite all the rules and regulations on the books, landlords that wish to ignore them are given an incredibly long leash by the banks that finance them, the Housing Court judges that have the power to appoint outside administrators but rarely do, and a housing code enforcement system that needs much more stringent tools than it currently has in its possession.
I’m grateful to Tom Robbins for giving this story new life, welcoming me into his class, and teaching me so much more than I knew about investigative reporting. I also want to thank my friend and colleague, Jarrett Murphy, the editor of City Limits, for believing in this project and doing a phenomenal job of editing it and asking us all the right questions along the way. It also would not have been possible if it were not for the vision of Sarah Bartlett, the director of the urban reporting program at the CUNY J-School. She created the investigative program and has been a great colleague to work with on this and other journalism projects close to my heart.
When you read the story in City Limits, I’d love to know what you think. Looking forward to the discussion.