Two local buildings on list of distressed properties
Tenants of a group of neglected apartment buildings around the city– including one in Mott Haven and another in Melrose — are urging a federal judge to put the properties into the hands of a more responsible landlord.
Residents of 42 rent-regulated buildings in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan that are known as the Three Borough Pool have complained of deteriorating living conditions and harassment by management since a group of private equity firms bought the buildings in 2007. The owners tried to drive out tenants and hike up rents, according to advocates, and local housing groups are fighting to place the nearly 1,700 units under new management.
The owners of the buildings used a real estate tactic called predatory equity, when speculators buy affordable housing with the goal of pushing out current tenants and raising rents, the advocates charge.
“It’s definitely an opportunity for the affordable housing groups to be demanding new solutions to these kinds of predatory deals,” said Celia Weaver, assistant director of tenant organizing at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board.
The private equity groups that bought the buildings — David Kramer, Normandy Real Estate, Vantage Properties and Westbrook Management — defaulted on their $131 million mortgage in 2012, according to court documents, and a federal housing court has given them until April 2 to pay it off. If they don’t, a judge will appoint a new management company to take over the portfolio, which includes 710 E. 138th St. and 820 Jackson Ave.
Tenants, supporters and members of the City Council held a press conference at City Hall on March 18 to raise awareness of predatory equity and to call on the federal judge to transfer ownership to a reputable developer.
“We want these buildings to get into the hands of groups that are dedicated to affordable housing,” said Eric Goldfischer, a tenant organizer with the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association.
The Three Borough Pool is one of the last major rent-regulated portfolios to go into foreclosure following the housing bust in 2008.
“At the time that these deals were happening, these companies were just real-estate hungry, people were just snapping up whatever they could,” said Weaver.
“More often than not it’s ended in suffering for the tenants.”
Nairobi Quinones, 29, lives with her two children at 820 Jackson Ave. A year ago a sewage backup in the building filled her bathroom with waste. Her family had to use a neighbor’s bathroom for a month while she waited for building management to fix it.
“I would have rather lived in a shelter than to have lived in that apartment during that time,” she said.
Quinones relocated to another unit in the building last summer, but soon after she moved in her refrigerator stopped working. Repairmen didn’t come to fix it for two weeks, and all her food spoiled in the meantime, she said.
“As a part-time working mother of two, it wasn’t easy just throwing away the food that went bad,” she said.
Other issues in the building include a broken intercom system, windows that don’t close and torn screens that let in mosquitos, said Quinones.
“I don’t want these things in my apartment biting my children,” she said.
Mike Epps, 25, agreed that 820 Jackson Ave. is in desperate need of repairs. He said his aunt, who lives in the building, has not only experienced sewage backups but also leaks in her ceiling.
“A lot needs to be fixed,” he said.
To make matters worse, management companies are harassing tenants, said Goldfischer.
Colonial Management, which is responsible for repairs in the 42 buildings, circulated a petition in 820 Jackson Ave. asking tenants to attest that it is a good management company in an apparent move to prevent a judge from seizing ownership, he said.
In other buildings, Colonial has put up signs inaccurately stating that the properties are not in foreclosure and has told superintendents in its buildings to discourage tenants from meeting to discuss building conditions, said Sheila Garcia, a community organizer for Community Action for Safe Apartments. Housing advocates have also been harassed and intimidated when they meet with tenants, said Garcia.
“I had the super from 50 E. 172nd St. follow me to the bus stop on my way home,” she said.
A representative from Colonial Management had no comment.
Residents and advocates said they are hopeful that after April 2, a new owner and management company will improve living conditions for all of thebuildings. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development maintains a list of qualified developers who can take over distressed buildings and get city subsidies to keep the units affordable.
“The light at the end of the tunnel looks closer,” said Garcia.