The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Speculators Beware: Don’t Buy Here!

Over the past couple of months, we’ve been working with tenants in 14 buildings in Brooklyn that are in foreclosure with Flushing Bank.  You already know the story.  With the help of banks, speculative landlords pay way too much for buildings, and accumulate a lot of debt. Unable to make enough money on the buildings, they miss their mortgage payments, and the buildings fall into disrepair. Pretty soon, the landlord is in trouble with the lender for not paying back the debt.

The story is particularly profound in the Flushing Savings Bank buildings, where half of the 14 buildings have gotten so bad that they are now HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP), a program which is reserved for the 200 worst buildings in the city.

Four of the Flushing buildings are owned by the same landlord, Joseph Greenstein (now rated as one of the city’s worst landlords, according to Bill de Blasio’s newly updated list). Tenants tell us that Greenstein never shows up  except to collect rent. Even then, if a city official is nearby, Greenstein runs off. In addition to owing Flushing Bank $1.4 million on his mortgage, he also owes the city nearly the same amount in outstanding liens for repairs and property taxes. According to tenants, Greenstein is also in debt with Con-Edison and National Grid for significant amounts of money. Talk about bad credit.

Unfortunately, his racked up debt  impacts more than just his credit rating –  it seriously impacts the tenants that live in the buildings. Floor boards are rotting, electrical wires are exposed. This morning, one woman showed us how she literally has to break in and out of her own apartment because the lock mechanism on her door is busted. Residents of these buildings suffer from leaks, mold, and rodents.

Tenants are sick and tired of these atrocious conditions and are ready to fight for their homes!  They want a preservation landlord to rehabilitate the buildings, keep them affordable for current tenants, and work with them to make their home a nice place to live.

Although tenants demand a responsible new owner, Greenstein is working to sell the buildings himself to make a bit of extra money before the building gets seized from him through foreclosure. In front of the four buildings in East NY and Brownsville, Greenstein has hung up large “For Sale” signs to attract any buyer who will pay the highest price for these buildings (and likely reignite the cycle of predatory equity).

Tenants have taken a stand and have hung up signs (some even directly over Greenstein’s) saying: “Speculators Beware: Don’t Buy Here!”  Tenants deserve a choice in what happens to their homes, and they are demanding a voice in that process.

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